With the first hint of spring, Louisiana turkey hunters are ready to get into the woods. That wild, sweet call of a love-struck gobbler doesn't just attract the hens; it also speaks to the thousands of hunters who love nothing more than chasing wild turkeys through the swamp.
According to biologists, this spring's hunting should be a bit tougher than last year's. In some areas the birds had a hard time in the spring of 2011, resulting in both poor nesting success and adult bird mortality. That doesn't mean the turkey population is in trouble, but it does mean hunters may be in for a couple of years of more challenging hunting.
Jimmy Stafford, wild turkey and resident small game program leader for the Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries, said that biologists divide the state into several different "eco-regions," based on the dominant habitats in the area.
"We have the Northwest Loblolly Shortleaf Loblolly Hardwood Region, the North Mississippi Delta Region, the Western Longleaf Region, the Atchafalaya and Lower Mississippi Delta Region, and the Southeastern Loblolly Region," he said.
- The NWTF offers a more detailed hunt guide with exclusive, member-only information prepared by NWTF biologists and field staff. To access this information please join the NWTF. Please check with your local wildlife agency to confirm seasonal information before planning your hunt, as information is subject to change.
"Looking back to 2011 for information about adult birds this year," he said, "the only area that had what I consider to be decent poult production was the Northwest Shortleaf Hardwood Loblolly area. That was the only hatch that will result in decent numbers of two-year-old birds out there, which are your most vocal birds during the hunting season. I'm fairly optimistic about that region of the state."
That part is the good news, Stafford said; the rest of it's not so good.
"The bad news is the Atchafalaya and Lower Mississippi Delta Region," he said. "In 2011, we only had 0.2 poults per hen in that region, which was very, very low. A lot of that was due to flooding. Birds that weren't in that area of flooding are still hanging in there pretty decently, but the ones inside the flooded areas are in trouble."
Stafford doesn't expect turkey numbers to rebound here quickly.
"I suspect that the recovery in this area will be fairly slow," he said. "I fully expect the turkey population to come back, but it's going to be a little while. As a result, we've adjusted some of our seasons."
The 2011 information from the other areas, Stafford said, indicates that neither the North Mississippi Delta Region nor the Southeastern Loblolly Pine Region had great production either.
"It was below two poults per hen, but that rate wasn't as low as the Western Longleaf Region," he said. "So even in the traditionally good areas, hunters may find it a little difficult to harvest birds this spring."
With all those caveats, Stafford said, there still are places where hunters are more likely to find birds than others.
This area is primarily piney woods, and is part of the Coastal Plains habitat in northwest Louisiana. It includes Bienville, Bossier, Caddo, Caldwell, Claiborne, DeSoto, Jackson, LaSalle, Lincoln, Red River, Union, and Webster parishes.
"The best are almost always Bodcau WMA and Jackson Bienville SMA," Stafford said. "The Bodcau harvest was slightly up in 2012 from the previous year, and both years were fairly decent."
Bodcau WMA is located in Bossier and Webster Parishes. It's named for the bayou that cuts across it. The area is about 17 miles northeast of Bossier City and is easily accessible from a number of roads.
The area contains a range of wildlife habitats, from cypress swamps to upland pine and hardwood forests interspersed with grasslands and open fields. There are seasonally flooded sloughs, beaver ponds, and large areas of flatland, bottomland, and hardwood forests. One unique feature of the area is that the bottomland forest rapidly merges with the upland forest on a series of ridges that extend into the bottomland area.
The bottomland forests include bald cypress, water, overcup, willow, and cow oaks. Shortleaf and loblolly pine, white, red, and cherrybark oaks, sweetgum and elm trees dominate upland forests. Understory species in the bottomland area include poison ivy, honeysuckle, rattan, buttonbush and swamp privet. Upland understory species include blackberry, honeysuckle, poison ivy and beautyberry and saw briar.
"The Jackson Bienville harvest was down a little from 2011, but they still had 26 birds killed, which was pretty decent," Stafford said.
Jackson Bienville WMA is located in Bienville, Jackson and Lincoln parishes12 miles south of Ruston in North Central Louisiana. Numerous roads enter the area with the major access being U.S. Highway 167 and State Route 147. An extensive system of gravel roads is available for use by the public.
Jackson Bienville is covers about 32,185 acres. The terrain is primarily gently rolling hills bordering Dugdemona River and five intermittent streams. The area is intensively managed for timber, so the habitat is highly diverse due to the varying timber harvest schedule, the interspersion of the hardwood areas, and over 40 miles of utilities rights-of-ways.
Forest cover is predominantly pine, except in the bottomland regions where water, willow, overcup, and cow oak, sweet and black gum, beech, and various other species of hardwoods dominate. Understory vegetation, which is dense, consists of French mulberry, hackberry, dogwood, honeysuckle, grape, muscadine, maple, sweetleaf, wax myrtle, blue beech, beggarweed, and greenbrier.
NORTH DELTA REGION
This area includes Catahoula, Concordia, East Carroll, Franklin, Madison, Morehouse, Ouachita, Richland, Tensas and West Carroll parishes.
"The Tensas National Wildlife Refuge is always a good place," Stafford said. "They had a pretty good year last year. Big Lake WMA also had a good year last year compared to the previous year, and indications are that we had pretty good reproduction in the spring of 2012."
Big Lake WMA is located in Franklin, Madison, and Tensas Parishes, 12 miles east of Gilbert. Major access routes to the area are SR 4 and SR 610.
The area covers approximately 19,000 acres. Flat and generally poorly drained, the terrain varies from 55 to 65 feet above mean sea level. Seasonal flooding occurs depending on water levels in the Tensas River basin, but periodic flooding may occur any time after periods of localized heavy rainfall.
Most of the forested parts of the area consist of a relatively closed over story canopy with a fairly dense understory. Major timber species include Nuttall oak, overcup oak, willow oak, American elm, sweetgum, bitter pecan, green ash, hackberry, and honey locust. Understory species include rattan, grapevine, dewberry, blackberry, deciduous holly, swamp dogwood, and elderberry.
Tensas River National Wildlife Refuge, established in 1980, contains nearly 80,000 acres of prime bottomland hardwood habitat located in the Tensas River Basin. The Refuge is composed of extensive bottomland hardwood
forests intermingled with sloughs, swamps, and lakes.
Hunters must have a Refuge Access permit as well as a permit for the Deer Lottery Hunt, and a National Wildlife Refuge System/Big Game Harvest Report Card. You must check in all deer at the nearest check station to where you kill the deer. Only hunters with a valid Deer Lottery Hunt permit are allowed on the refuge during the hunt, and all other activities are prohibited during that time.
This area is south of Alexandria on the western side of the state and was historically longleaf pine. It includes Allen, Beauregard, Calcasieu, Evangeline, Grant, Jefferson Davis Natchitoches, Rapides, Sabine, Vernon and Winn parishes.
"Peason Ridge WMA and Fort Polk WMA are always good here," Stafford said. "They have always produced turkeys when they're open, which is always an issue. They both are military bases, and hunters have to go ahead of time and get a military permit; you can't just turn up the day you want to hunt and expect to get on either of these areas. There also may be periods of time when these areas are shut down completely." Stafford said that Peason Ridge was very underutilized during the fall turkey hunt of 2012, so it might be a very good area this spring.
Fort Polk WMA is located ten miles southeast of Leesville in Vernon Parish just east of US 171, one mile south of SR 28 and one mile north of SR 10. The area contains many all-weather roads, which make it easily accessible for hunting.
The terrain is primarily rolling hills interspersed with flats. There are several fairly large stream bottoms in addition to numerous small creeks and greenheads. Approximately seventy percent of the area is dominated by longleaf pine. Blackjack, sandjack, red and post oaks are scattered throughout. The understory is sparse and includes wax myrtle, dogwood, huckleberry, yaupon, and French mulberry.
The creek bottoms contain willow oak, water oak, cow oak, beech, sweetgum, blackgum and magnolia. In the understory you'll find red bay, white bay, sweetleaf, ironweed, fetterbush, wild azalea, gallberry, deciduous holly and viburnums.
Peason Ridge WMA, more than 33,000 acres, is 18 miles north of Leesville in Sabine, Natchitoches and Vernon Parishes. The terrain consists of gentle to high, rolling hills interspersed with creeks and greenheads. Longleaf pine is dominant on some of the hills while a mixture of loblolly pine, longleaf pine, red oak, blackjack oak and post oak is found on other ridges. Some portions of the area support mixed pine stands of longleaf, loblolly and shortleaf. Groves of sandjack oak are also present. Large areas with little or no timber are common. The understory of these upland types is sparse and contains wax myrtle, yaupon, sweetgum, dogwood, huckleberry, and sumac.
The creek bottoms and greenheads include water oak, beech, magnolia, sweetgum, red maple and ash. Understory species include dogwood, buttonbush, French mulberry, wild azalea, hazel alder, hawthorn, red bay, white bay, blackgum, and viburnums.
One "sleeper" in this region, Stafford said, is the Clear Creek WMA.
ATCHAFALAYA & LOWER DELTA REGION
This area comprises the parishes of Ascension, Assumption, Avoyelles, Cameron, Iberia, Iberville, Jefferson, Lafayette, Lafourche, Orleans, Lafayette, Pointe Coupee, St. Bernard, St. Charles, St. James, St. Landry, St. Martin, St. Mary, Terrebonne, Vermilion, and West Baton Rouge. A great deal of this area lies inside the Atchafalaya Basin.
"We really don't have a good public area here this year," Stafford said. "However, if you're in a private hunting club outside the levees, you might have a decent year."
In the Southeast Loblolly Region are the parishes of East Baton Rouge, East Feliciana, Livingston, St. Helena, St. Tammany, Tangipahoa, Washington and West Feliciana.
"The best area is Tunica Hills, but it receives a great deal of pressure," Stafford said. "The majority of these hunts are lottery hunts, although there's an open hunt at the end of the season."
Tunica Hills WMA is small at just under 6000 acres and is composed of two separate tracts lying northwest of St. Francisville in West Feliciana Parish. The North Tract is 14.3 miles west on SR 66 from SR 61, the Farrar-Davis Road turns off to the right, and a check station is located 3 miles to the north. The South Tract may be accessed by driving 17.3 miles west on SR 66 from SR 61. A small road, the Old Tunica Trace, turns off to the left, runs approximately a mile up in the hills and bisects the management area.
Terrain is mostly rugged hills, bluffs and ravines. The area lies at the southern end of the Loess Blufflands escarpment, which follows the east bank of the Mississippi River south from its confluence with the Ohio River. These bluffs offer a diverse habitat.
The forest on the area is upland hardwoods, with some loblolly pine and eastern red cedar mixed in on the ridge tops and creek terraces. Hardwoods include American beech, American holly, flowering magnolia, cherrybark oak, water oak, cow oak, hickory, sweetgum, Osage orange, hackberry, elms, eastern hop hornbeam, ironwood, and maple. The understory varies from dense in logged areas to fairly open in uncut timber areas. Common understory species are oak leaf hydrangea, two-winged silverbell, trifoliate orange, pawpaw, flowering dogwood, sweetleaf, spicebush, blackberry and switchcane.
Arkansas turkey hunting is still on life support, but it\'s showing remarkable signs of improvement. After a record year in 2003, Arkansas fell to 9,000 birds harvested in 2012 — 11,000 less birds in a 10-year span. The state has responded by cutting back on hunting opportunities, and it feels confident numbers will slowly rise.
For more information about turkey hunting in Arkansas, be sure to check out the 2013 G&F turkey hunting forecast.
The turkey population in most areas is robust this year and hunter success should be high. As usual, several factors will come into play, including the timing of breeding phases and inclement weather. The turkeys are there and the trick is to persist until you find yourself in the right place at the right time.
For more information about turkey hunting in California, be sure to check out the 2013 G&F turkey hunting forecast.
With the ability to hunt two species of wild turkey in the same state, Florida hunters definitely have an edge. Although Florida doesn\'t do statewide turkey assessments, officials believe numbers will be as strong and impressive as last year.
For more information about turkey hunting in Florida, be sure to check out the 2013 G&F turkey hunting forecast.
Turkey populations for 2013 are estimated to be around 335,000, which has remained steady since 2010. The numbers are very solid — even more impressive when you consider they were around 17,000 in 1973. Much like last year, hunters in Georgia can expect a great chance at a turkey again in 2013.
For more information about turkey hunting in Georgia, be sure to check out the 2013 G&F turkey hunting forecast.
It\'s hard to conceive of a better place to hunt turkeys than the Great Plains region. You can buy multiple permits across states, seasons are liberal in length and you can hunt Rios, Easterns and Merriam\'s in the same state. It doesn\'t get much better than that.
In Nebraska, 32,520 permits were issued and 21,419 turkeys were harvested in 2012 — that\'s a 62 percent success rate, well above the national average (25 percent).
For more information about turkey hunting in the Great Plains region, be sure to check out the 2013 G&F turkey hunting forecast for Kansas , Nebraska
, North Dakota and South Dakota.
Illinois turkey numbers in 2012 grew to 15,121, which was better than an already impressive showing in 2011. Will the same trend prove true in 2013? According to biologists, turkey numbers are still strong, but the state DNR is taking a wait-and-see approach.
Northern Illinois typically provides the best harvest numbers, with 8,935 turkeys taken in 2012. The southern part of the state was still at an impressive 7,006 turkeys harvested. Biologists in Illinois predict that turkey numbers in 2013 will be the same, or slightly improved, from last year, which is great news for hunters.
For more information about turkey hunting in Illinois, be sure to check out the 2013 G&F turkey hunting forecast.
Despite warmer conditions in 2012, hunters killed 12,655 turkeys in Indiana, which made for a solid year. Does that mean 2013 is set up to be a great year? Biologists in Indiana are hesitant to make that bold of a prediction, especially since brood numbers haven\'t been that great in recent years. This has mainly affected the number of jakes harvested.
Even with some of these concerns, state biologists are optimistic about turkey production in 2013.
For more information about turkey hunting in Indiana, be sure to check out the 2013 G&F turkey hunting forecast.
Turkey harvest numbers were up slightly in 2012 from the year prior — a positive trend for turkey hunters in Iowa. With a robust youth season and strong adult harvest numbers the last couple of years, state officials think 2013 is going to be a strong year as well.
For more information about turkey hunting in Iowa, be sure to check out the 2013 G&F turkey hunting forecast.
With strong survival and nesting numbers in 2012, officials in Kentucky are predicting another solid year in 2013. Despite two years of odd weather, Kentucky has maintained strong numbers all around. Officials also believe a dry spell actually helped more than it hurt.
For more information about turkey hunting in Kentucky, be sure to check out the 2013 G&F turkey hunting forecast.
According to biologists, this spring's hunting in Louisiana should be a bit tougher than last year's. In some areas the birds had a hard time in the spring of 2011, resulting in both poor nesting success and adult bird mortality. That doesn't mean the turkey population is in trouble, but it does mean hunters may be in for a couple of years of more challenging hunting.
For more information about turkey hunting in Louisiana, be sure to check out the 2013 G&F turkey hunting forecast.
Michigan has not had a banner turkey hatch in several years, but it looks like 2012 may provide just that. As a result, Joe Robison of the Michigan Department of Natural Resources predicts 2013 will be a fantastic year for turkey hunters.
With an already impressive population of right at 200,000 birds in 2012, Robison predicts that number will increase this year. Also, Michigan has a high success rate — 36 percent — which should make for an exciting turkey hunting season.
For more information about turkey hunting in Michigan, be sure to check out the 2013 G&F turkey hunting forecast.
Minnesota had a great spring for nesting in 2012, something that should bring great turkey hunting this year. While in the past hunters had to traverse to the southern part of the state if they wanted to bag a turkey, numbers have rapidly expanded all across the state.
"I\'m thrilled with what turkeys are doing in Minnesota," Tom Glines, National Wild Turkey Federation regional director, said. According to Glines, lottery tags are up 10 percent in many areas, and 20 percent in others. All that means lots of opportunity in 2013.
For more information about turkey hunting in Minnesota, be sure to check out the 2013 G&F turkey hunting forecast.
Mississippi boasts one of the largest wild turkey populations in the country. And with over a quarter million of these birds scattered from the Tennessee line to the Gulf of Mexico, hunters should have no problem finding a gobbler to chase on opening morning.
For more information about turkey hunting in Mississippi, be sure to check out the 2013 G&F turkey hunting forecast.
The Missouri Department of Conservation estimates the state\'s current spring turkey population is at around 300,000 birds. Unfortunately, poor production in recent times has caused a decline in the turkey population, due to abnormally wet periods during nesting and hatching periods. However, because the last two years were so good in terms of production, it is likely 2013 will be a high water mark, which is great news for hunters.
For more information about turkey hunting in Missouri, be sure to check out the 2013 G&F turkey hunting forecast.
There are no two ways about it — New England is stocked full of turkeys, which is great news for hunters in 2013. With an estimated turkey population of 214,000, hunters have great chances to tag a bird. Maine has the highest numbers, while New Hampshire, Vermont and Massachusetts are not far behind.
For more information about turkey hunting in New England, be sure to check out the 2013 G&F turkey hunting forecast.
While turkey hunting numbers should remain somewhat steady, early data in North Carolina suggests the downward trend of turkey populations may continue into the 2013 season. Almost 20 percent of turkeys harvested in 2012 were jakes, which means less mature turkeys this year. State officials also recommend hunting federal lands, though permits are required for these particular hot spots.
For more information about turkey hunting in North Carolina, be sure to check out the 2013 G&F turkey hunting forecast.
Ohio looks to be in good shape for the 2013 turkey hunting season, with great populations of birds across the state. Officials estimate 2013 and 2014 will both be great years, with harvest rates predicted to be around 18,000 birds.
For more information about turkey hunting in Ohio, be sure to check out the 2013 G&F turkey hunting forecast.
Depending on what happens with the drought, Oklahoma officials predict the 2013 turkey season will be a mirror of what happened last year. The state had solid numbers, despite obviously dry conditions. That said, the drought definitely had a negative impact on overall turkey numbers state wide. Numbers are still strong — 55,747 turkeys in the western region alone — but down 9 percent from last year.
For more information about turkey hunting in Oklahoma, be sure to check out the 2013 G&F turkey hunting forecast.
States like Oregon and Washington, both in the Pacific Northwest, have an optimistic turkey outlook for 2013. The southwest corner of Oregon is the state\'s typical hot spot for turkey hunting, and it looks good this year as well. Since 2011, the Melrose unit in southwest Oregon has a 51 percent success rate, which is well above the national average.
Washington figures not to be far behind, with a success rate of 36 percent last year and a harvest of 5,600 birds. The hottest areas are in northeast part of the state.
For more information about turkey hunting in the Pacific Northwest, be sure to check out the 2013 G&F turkey hunting forecast.
Pennsylvania turkey numbers have continued to rise and fall over the last few years, but the good news is results have been consistently stable. According to officials with the Pennsylvania Game Commission, population numbers have dropped off a little, but that was after a roaring boom in the 2000\'s. They also predict a solid year for turkeys in 2013.
For more information about turkey hunting in Pennsylvania, be sure to check out the 2013 G&F turkey hunting forecast.
When most sportsmen think of Colorado, Wyoming and much of the Rocky Mountain region, they think of monster mulies and bugling elk. And for good reason. But with a turkey hunting success rate of 25 percent in Colorado — on par with the national average — and 70 percent for non-residents in Wyoming, it\'s also a great place to track down a turkey.
For those hunters lucky enough to draw a limited tag, there is usually a success rate of 55 percent. Hunting Rio Grandes is a bit tougher, as the tag usually takes about 3 to 4 years to acquire.
For more information about turkey hunting in the Rocky Mountain region, be sure to check out the 2013 G&F turkey hunting forecast.
After two productive years for wild turkeys, South Carolina looks to be in good shape for the 2013 turkey season. According to state officials, some of the best places to hunt are public land areas like those in the Sumer National Forest. With good production since 2010, these areas are full of 2-year-old gobblers.
For more information about turkey hunting in South Carolina, be sure to check out the 2013 G&F turkey hunting forecast.
Coming off great turkey harvest years in 2010 and 2012 — with 37,000 and 33,789 birds harvested, respectively — things look good again for Tennessee in 2013. Amazingly, Tennessee harvested 30,000 birds every year for the last decade, which says a lot about its ability to produce great turkey hunting year after year.
For more information about turkey hunting in Tennessee, be sure to check out the 2013 G&F turkey hunting forecast.
Virginia state officials believe the state is in the midst of a leveling off period, which means consistent turkey harvest rates statewide. Turkey populations have dropped by about 1.2 percent over the last decade, but harvest numbers have remained strong.
For more information about turkey hunting in Virginia, be sure to check out the 2013 G&F turkey hunting forecast.
In 2012, West Virginia saw a fairly substantial decline in turkey harvest numbers, which was probably affected by low brood numbers dating back to 2009. Likewise, state officials believe a strong hatch in 2011 should translate into much improved harvest numbers for 2013.
For more information about turkey hunting in West Virginia, be sure to check out the 2013 G&F turkey hunting forecast.
Wisconsin has consistently been rising in turkey production each year, and this year it looks like it has reached a place of dynamic stability — turkeys are present everywhere in hearty numbers. In 2012, 42,612 turkeys were harvested — a 6 percent increase over the previous year.
Likewise, a mild winter and early spring appear to have helped turkeys pull off successful broods, according to the state DNR. With 82 percent of broods consisting of toms last year, biologists say hunting should be great in 2013.
For more information about turkey hunting in Wisconsin, be sure to check out the 2013 G&F turkey hunting forecast.
State officials in Alabama say 2012 was a solid year for turkey hunters across the state. They predict 2013 will be much of the same, with good poult production to show for the last couple of years. As is the case in many states, quality turkey production in Alabama has come as a result of good habitat management.
Private land in Alabama offers some of the best hunting options, though a $16 permit gives you access to Wildlife Management Area lands that are also prime hunting grounds for turkeys.
For more information about turkey hunting in Alabama, be sure to check out the 2013 G&F turkey hunting forecast.
According to state officials, there are around 500,000 Rio Grande turkeys living in Texas, meaning there are lots of opportunities for hunters across the state. The state also had above average survival rates, which should make for a great season in 2013.
For more information about turkey hunting in Texas, be sure to check out the 2013 G&F turkey hunting forecast.