No other sound in nature speaks to the soul of a turkey hunter like the booming gobble of a Magnolia State longbeard. We hear it as an irresistible challenge that must be answered, regardless of the cost. Very few things in life, other than our jobs and family, prevent a true turkey hunter from responding to the gobble of this magnificent bird. 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 of us find turkey hunting to be so addictive. Each morning we enter his domain to plead our case with the best calling we have to offer.
Sometimes he responds to our seductive pleas, but more often he will not. I am certain it is this rejection that we turkey hunters cannot accept. It is what makes us crawl out of a warm bed at an outrageous hour morning after morning.
The ultimate challenge in the turkey woods is to lure an old boss gobbler into shotgun range with the most seductive calling we can muster. The secret to bagging one of these clever old birds lies in 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 your shoulder.
But before you can drop the hammer on a Mississippi longbeard, you must first identify the hunting areas that offer the best opportunities for success. Here is what the Magnolia State's turkey biologists are predicting for the 2012 Spring Turkey Season.
Turkey hunting success in the Magnolia State hinges on the number of 2-year-old birds available for harvest during the spring season. These inexperienced young gobblers tend to gobble more than their older counterparts and are much more susceptible to being harvested than a seasoned gobbler that has strutted more than a few times around the woodlot.
"In most cases it is the abundance or lack of 2-year-olds that make or break our season," said Dave Godwin, Wild Turkey Program Coordinator with the Mississippi Department of Wildlife, Fisheries, and Parks.
A team of MDWFP wildlife biologists utilize numerous data sets to aid them in predicting what the turkey numbers will be during the upcoming season. Because jakes are off limits to adult hunters during Mississippi's spring turkey season, the brood survey data from two years ago and jake observations per hour from the 2011 are paramount in determining the potential success that awaits hunters in each of the state's five turkey regions in 2012. Although carryover of older gobblers has some bearing on hunting success, it is the overall number of 2-year-old gobblers that holds the key.
Nesting conditions for much of the Magnolia State in 2010 was greatly improved over recent years. The resulting hatch should mean a significant increase in the number of 2-year-old birds that hunters encounter during the 2012 season. Therefore, the state's biologists are anticipating that the wild turkey harvest rates during this season will be higher than they have been in the last four years.
"The increase in 2010 reproduction was not only seen in the statewide averages, but also was the case in every region of the state," Godwin noted. "This means that we should see an increase in the number of 2-year-old gobblers statewide this spring. And that is great news for turkey hunters across the Magnolia State."
But since there are always exceptions to any general statewide forecast, let's take a closer look at the Magnolia State's five turkey regions and see what each has to offer this spring.
TURKEY REGION 1
Comprised of 21 counties in north central and northeast Mississippi, this region has a fairly bleak turkey-hunting outlook for 2012. According to the 2009 brood survey, turkey reproduction in this region was the lowest on record, with 0.94 poults per hen. Unfortunately, the 2010 reproduction data didn't show much improvement.
"Turkey populations across northeast Mississippi have been dropping steadily for the past several years, and neither the brood survey data from 2010 nor the Spring Gobbler Hunter Survey data from last season indicate that things have turned around," said Adam Butler, MDWFP Wild Turkey Program biologist. "So hunters in Region 1 should expect a 2012 season that mirrors what they have experienced for the past several years."
It is important to note that Turkey Region 1 has had a history of poor participation in the Spring Gobbler Hunter Survey, which opens the door for harvest, gobbling activity, spur length, and turkey observation data being biased as a result of limited sample sizes. However, Mississippi's turkey reproduction data is collected using the MDWFP Brood Survey, which is more accurate since it is unaffected by sample size.
TURKEY REGION 2
This turkey region consists of 10 flood prone Delta counties found along the Mississippi River. Spring floodwaters have a significant impact on wild turkey reproduction and hunting in this area.
Three consecutive years of record high hatches from 2005 to 2007 were followed by three of the worst hatches on record for this region. As expected, the dismal reproduction rates resulted in jake observations in 2009 and 2010 taking a major hit.
"The Delta has obviously suffered of late due to spring flooding, but the area did see a pretty decent hatch during 2010, so jake observations were up this past season, suggesting that there will be a good crop of 2-year-old birds out there for 2012," said Butler. "However, this may not necessarily translate into a banner season in the Delta, because this 2-year-old cohort of gobblers will likely be almost the only male birds around due to the record poor hatches in 2008, 2009 and this past spring."
For private lands, Butler strongly suggests that Region 2 hunters should be conservative with their harvest. Delta turkey hunters need to realize that this group of 2-year-old gobblers is going to have to get them by until the 2014 season at the earliest. And that is assuming we have a good hatch this summer.
Hunters in the Delta Region can only cross their fingers and hope that the floodwaters and wet weather will stay away this spring and allow the turkey numbers to recover.
TURKEY REGION 3
Located in east central Mississippi, this 21-county region has seen a steady increase in overall turkey numbers over the last few years. After leveling off somewhat in 2010, Region 3's turkey population growth appears to be headed back in a positive direction.
"Turkey Region 3 has been coming on strong the last several years, and it looks like more of the same for the 2012 season," Butler confirmed. "Jake observations were way up last spring, much higher than they have been in over 10 years, so it ought to be a really good in this region this spring."
Not only can East Central Region hunters expect to encounter greater numbers of the more vocal 2-year-olds, but also thanks to a decent carryover of older gobblers, turkey hunting in Region 3 should remain above average in 2012.
According to Butler, the hunters in the East Central Region would be wise to focus on the counties along the Interstate 20 corridor. Populations in that area of Region 3 have been booming for the last several years. Even though the population most likely peaked in 2010, there should still be good numbers of gobblers left in the woods this spring.
TURKEY REGION 4
If there is a shining star in the Magnolia State turkey woods, it would have to be Turkey Region 4. While the turkey populations in the 12 counties that make up this southwest Mississippi turkey region may not be at the levels they reached during the late 1980s, they aren't too far off the mark.
"It really ought to be incredible in southwest Mississippi this coming turkey season," Butler said. "We saw record jake observation rates last spring that were absolutely through the roof.
For every 100 hours in the woods, hunters spotted 31.3 jakes.
"We suspected this would happen because the brood survey data from 2010 was just incredible for this region," Butler added. "Over 50 percent of all hens raised poults in the summer of 2010.
"Total turkey observations from the Spring Gobbler Hunter Survey were also off the charts. It's higher than it has ever been since we started keeping survey data back in 1996. Harvest rates should jump big time this spring. Based on the data, it is pretty safe to assume that the 2012 turkey season will probably be the best hunting this region has seen since that time."
The southwest Region has been the most consistent turkey-producing region in the Magnolia State over the past several years, and that trend doesn't appear to be changing anytime soon. The region will likely be the state's only true wild turkey hotspot, when it comes to gobblers in all age classes for the 2012 season.
TURKEY REGION 5
The final turkey region on our list consists of 18 counties in the piney woods of southeast Mississippi. Much like the other regions in the state, Turkey Region 5 experienced a considerable drop in reproduction rates in 2009, which came on the heels of an equally poor hatch in 2008. As expected, jake observations followed suit with significant declines during the 2009 and 2010 seasons. However, a great hatch in 2010 helped turn this negative trend around.
"Although not quite to the same extent, the jake and total turkey observation data collected in 2011 for Turkey Region 5 was similar to what we saw in the Southwest Region," Butler noted. "Things are looking really good for the Southeast Region, and 2012 should be one of the better, if not the best, seasons of the last decade."
TURKEY HUNTING HOT SPOTS
Selecting the top Mississippi turkey hunting hotspots has never been easier. The top eight counties can all be found in the same area — Turkey Region 4 in southwest Mississippi. Based on data from the Spring Gobbler Hunter Survey and input from MDWFP turkey biologists, the top turkey counties for the 2012 season are Wilkinson, Adams, Jefferson, Claiborne, Amite, Franklin, Copiah and Lincoln.
The turkey population in this part of the Magnolia State is very near that seen in the mid-1980s, when turkey hunting was nothing short of phenomenal.
When it comes to the top turkey hunting wildlife management areas, the guys at MDWFP tend to shy away from highlighting specific tracts. They understandably don't want to place any undue hunting pressure on any particular WMA.
But that being said, hunters that study the data in the Spring Gobbler Hunter Survey can easily identify the better turkey WMAs in the state. The survey is an invaluable resource for Mississippi turkey hunters. It is one of the best data sets that hunters have at their disposal.
Volunteer hunters statewide collect turkey data on what they see, hear, and harvest during their hunts. The MDWFP staff uses this information to quantify the state's wild turkey resource.
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 award a shotguns to randomly selected survey participants over the past three seasons. You can find more information about or enroll in the Spring Gobbler Hunter Survey by visiting the MDWFP Web site at www.mdwfp.com/turkey.
The Magnolia State is blessed with some of the finest turkey hunting to be found anywhere in North America. While the past few years have been pretty tough on our turkey population, there are still plenty of gobblers out there to make your spring season an enjoyable one. So get out there and answer the call of a wily old Mississippi longbeard this season.