March 17, 2015
There is something folks know about a turkey hunter who says he's never missed a gobbler. Either he hasn't been on many turkey hunts, or he'll lie about other things. Longtime turkey hunters aren't afraid to admit their mistakes in their battles against wily gobblers.
Will Primos has produced numerous videos for his "Truth" video series through the years. Once, when Primos missed a turkey on video, his cameraman, Ronnie "Cuz" Strickland, current vice president of video and television production for Mossy Oak, said, "Will, I'll cut the miss out."
Primos replied, "No, leave the miss in because missing a turkey is as much a part of turkey hunting as taking one is. Anyone who hunts wild turkeys in the spring is going to miss his share of turkeys, and that's the truth."
One thing is that neither the passage of time or mind-wasting diseases can wash away the memories of the misses that honest turkey hunters make. Before you get attacked with the turkey hunting disease, you need to realize that the more turkey hunts you go on, the more gobblers you'll probably miss.
Of course, to first miss a spring gobbler, or preferably tag it, hunters have to find one to work and get it to strut within range of a shotgun.
Steve Barnett, District V wildlife supervisor for the Division of Wildlife and Freshwater Fisheries, is the wild turkey project leader for the state. He coordinates every aspect of wild turkey projects, data collection, surveys and research. He also acts as a liaison to the National Wild Turkey Federation (NWTF) and works with the Alabama NWTF chapter to develop projects for turkeys in the state, and he manages the annual hatch and retention reports.
"The hatch report is made up from volunteers reporting the number of hens and poults they see during the spring," Barnett explained. "We hope to recruit more volunteers to get more accurate data and have a better handle on turkey production each year. A larger sample size — hopefully every Alabama county — will cover more of the state with the hatch report in the future."
While the Alabama hatch report isn't an absolute fact about turkey reproduction, it does give biologists and turkey hunters some idea of what to expect. The most important component of the hatch report for the 2015 turkey season is the hatch report from 2013, which should indicate the number of 2-year-old gobblers talking to the timber this season.
"Remember these reports come from professionals and volunteers counting the hens, poults and gobblers they see while driving around in vehicles," Barnett explained. "The report for 2013 was 1.23 poults per hen and 2.03 poults per hen in 2012. So, the state should have good numbers of 3-year-old turkeys talking this 2015 season."
Since 2006, several years have recorded a hatch report of less than 2 poults per hen, which is the standard most states use to denote a healthy turkey population. Another factor used to derive the hatch report is hens seen without poults.
"Historically, Alabama has had good poult production and recruitment (turkeys that survive after birth)," Barnett reported. "We've consistently had three or more poults per hen that survived through the fall. So, we're predicting another good turkey season for the Alabama turkey hunter."
Environmental conditions (weather) play a huge role in gobbling activity. If cold weather remains in the state until late spring, Barnett says hunters won't hear as many turkeys gobbling than if spring arrives early. However, there will be a decent number of turkeys in the woods, whether gobbling or not. Of course, hunters have to find a location, which for many means public land, more specifically wildlife management areas.
District I — Northwest Alabama
Black Warrior WMA is a productive turkey hunting location with around 91,000 acres in Lawrence and Winston counties near Moulton.
"Black Warrior WMA had an estimated harvest of 55 gobblers, and the man days for turkeys harvested was 10," Barnett said. "The most-productive turkey WMAs will be where 10 days or less are required to take a turkey. So, Black Warrior is a really good WMA to consider hunting."
Freedom Hills WMA, which has 31,000-plus acres in Colbert County near Cherokee, is even better.
"Eighty two gobblers were harvested with only 7.7 man days required to take each gobbler," Barnett said. "This WMA has had outstanding spring turkey harvests for the last 2 years, and it may be providing the best public hunting in north Alabama. Freedom Hills' habitat management, including timber management programs and burning regimes, enables it to carry a large number of turkeys. Also, the Forever Wild Foundation bought some additional property to add to Freedom Hills. Freedom Hills also provides good nesting and brood rearing areas."
With a little more than 7,600 acres, Sam R. Murphy WMA, located in Lamar and Marion counties near Guin, took a little more hunter effort, but was still quite productive.
"Sam R. Murphy WMA harvested 45 turkeys with a total of 11.1 man days required to take a gobbler — still providing really good turkey hunting," said Barnett.
District II — Northeast Alabama
Choccolocco WMA, with its 56,838 acres in Cleburne County near Heflin, had 78 turkeys taken, with Barnett reporting that it took 10.8 days of hunter effort to bag a bird.
Choccolocco, one of the oldest and largest WMAs in Alabama, historically has been one of the state's best turkey producing WMAs. Mostly made up of hills and hollows, Choccolocco involves rugged walking. But if you get on one of these high hills, you can hear turkeys gobbling from a long way off.
"This WMA's producing good numbers of turkeys may be related to a project that has reintroduced the longleaf pine there," said Barnett. "Plus historically, this WMA has had a really good acorn crop to feed turkeys during the fall and winter."
Coosa WMA, with 22,988 acres in Coosa County near Rockford, had 55 turkeys harvested with 12.3 man days required to take a turkey, Barnett says.
Hollins WMA, located in Clay and Talladega counties near Hollins, has 28,802 acres for hunters to roam.
"Forty turkeys were harvested, and 25 man days were required to take a gobbler at Hollins WMA," Barnett reported.
These numbers may make it look like Hollins isn't one of the top picks as a public turkey hunting destination. But one of the reasons that the man days per turkey harvest may be a little less than glamorous could be due to this WMA's fewer turkey hunters. This WMA may be a sleeper for hunters who want to get away from the crowd and hunt without the pressure experienced on other WMAs.
James D. Martin-Skyline WMA has 60,732 acres in Jackson County.
"The harvest estimate was 54 turkeys with 25 man days expended to take a turkey," Barnett said.
This area doesn't receive much turkey hunting pressure, but area hunters still recommend scouting a couple of days before the season.
District III — Central Alabama
With more than 35,000 acres in Tuscaloosa and Walker counties near Tutwiler, Mulberry Fork WMA is a central Alabama jewel.
"Although Mulberry Fork only had 33 turkeys harvested, only 9.9 man days were required to take each turkey," Barnett reported.
Central Alabama hunters shouldn't overlook this WMA that only had 328 man days of turkey hunting. Besides finding less hunting pressure, odds of hearing and taking a turkey should be good at Mulberry Fork this season.
Oakmulgee WMA had 55 turkeys taken on its 44,500 acres in Bibb, Hale, Perry and Tuscaloosa counties last year.
"Only 12.7 man days were required to take a turkey, and the total man days hunted was 700," Barnett explained.
Oakmulgee has long been one of the most popular public turkey hunting destinations for central Alabama hunters and is a favorite hunting spot of Dr. Toxey Dorsett of Birmingham, who hunts without wearing camouflage. Once, when asked why, Toxey said, "I expect to take the turkey before the turkey has a chance to see me."
District IV — Southest Alabama
With 28,214 acres in Barbour and Bullock counties, Barbour WMA is one of the better WMAs in southeast Alabama.
"Barbour WMA had 55 turkeys taken in the harvest estimate with 13 man days required to take a turkey," Barnett said. "Traditionally, Barbour WMA has been one of our top public hunting areas for harvesting turkeys in southeast Alabama. The habitat is intensively managed for turkeys, with a number of wildlife openings, a good timber management program and burning regime being conducted. Barbour WMA has a good road system throughout, as well as quality nesting and brood rearing habitat, too."
During spring, outdoorsmen can plan trips to hunt turkeys in the mornings and fish Lake Eufaula in the afternoons.
District V — Southwest Alabama
Scotch WMA has 19,480 acres in Clarke County near Coffeeville, and is considered a little-known turkey haven by Barnett.
"Only 25 turkeys were taken on Scotch WMA, with 13 man days required to take a turkey," Barnett explained. "But once again, this is one of those sleeper areas with only 25 estimated man days during turkey season."
To dodge turkey hunting pressure and get away from the crowd, hunters may want to add Scotch WMA to their turkey hunting destinations this spring.
Upper Delta WMA, with 42,451 acres in Baldwin and Mobile counties near Stockton, provides hunters with an opportunity to hunt swamp gobblers.
"If this area doesn't have heavy spring floods, this is really a great area to hunt," Barnett said.
Water often limits access to the Upper Delta, which is along the Alabama River flood plain, so it doesn't have much hunting pressure.
Made up of parts of Sumter, Hale, Marengo and Greene counties near Demopolis, Demopolis WMA contains 6,952 acres.
"The Demopolis WMA is much like Upper Delta," Barnett reported. "Some of the best hunting sections of this WMA front the Tombigbee River, which often floods during the spring, making boat access often a necessity."
The accessibility to Upper Delta and Demopolis WMAs makes estimating turkey harvest at both difficult. Sportsmen who hunt turkeys on either often have to wear waders to find dry land to hunt. Gobbler chasers looking for talking toms away from the crowds and competition should consider these.
NWTF in Alabama
When you report on the statewide turkey forecast, you can't overlook the NWTF and its Alabama chapters. Many Bama turkey hunters may be surprised to know that the NWTF continues to work with the Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources to provide more and better turkey hunting, and education about the wild turkey. Alabama has many current and ongoing turkey projects that are happening and being recommeded.
"Turkey projects are submitted from our staff, from the public and from the Alabama NWTF," Barnett said. "These include projects involved with research, education, land acquisition and habitat restoration, just to name a few. Our technical department reviews the projects and then sends proposals to the Superfund Committee of the NWTF. That group then recommends the approval of certain projects for the State of Alabama.
"For instance, the NWTF Superfund Committee voted to approve over $91,000 worth of projects, including land acquisition for public lands in Alabama, projects on wildlife management areas to improve habitat in the state and equipment to improve habitat for the wild turkeys in Alabama. The fund also approved monies for education, including the Archery in the School program. So, our Department works hand-in-hand with the NWTF to improve turkey hunting throughout our state."