Many Magnolia State wild turkey enthusiasts are comparing the present condition of Mississippi's turkey flock to the ones seen in the late 1980s when the state's turkey population exploded to phenomenal levels. And while some areas have faced setbacks due to poor reproduction resulting from flooding and/or cold, wet spring weather in recent years, even these regions are seeing much improvement. Then there are areas like southwest and east central Mississippi that consistently churn out incredible turkey numbers year after year.
Each year, wildlife biologists with the Mississippi Department of Wildlife, Fisheries, and Parks utilize numerous data sets to aid them in estimating what the turkey numbers will be during the upcoming season. Due to the fact that jakes are off limits to adult hunters during Mississippi's spring turkey season, the brood survey data from 2011 and jake observations per hour from the 2012 season are paramount in determining the potential success that awaits turkey hunters in each of the state's five turkey regions in 2013. And while carryover of older gobblers is an important factor, it is the overall number of 2-year-old gobblers that hold the key to our hunting success each spring.
- 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.
Nesting conditions for most of the Magnolia State in 2011 were not up to par with those experienced in 2010. This reduced hatch will likely result in a decrease in the number of 2-year-old birds that hunters encounter during the 2013 season. However, the carryover of older gobblers not harvested in 2012 should help balance everything out. Just keep in mind that these seasoned gobblers won't be as susceptible to being lured into shotgun range as their younger inexperienced counterparts.
"The decrease in 2011 reproduction was not experienced in every region of the state," said Adam Butler, MDWFP Wild Turkey Program Biologist. "This means that many areas of Mississippi should provide the state's turkey hunters with another productive season."
Butler also noted that the 2012 hatch was the best the state has seen in over a decade. More poults on the ground in 2012 mean more 2-year-old gobblers for hunters to chase in 2014. And that is great news for turkey hunters across the Magnolia State.
TURKEY HUNTING TACTICS
Turkey hunters in Mississippi, or anywhere in the Deep South for that matter, can attest to the fact that Eastern gobblers are the toughest species of turkey out there to hunt. That's not to say that the other species aren't challenging; they simply don't receive the hunting pressure our Eastern birds experience as a result of liberal bag limits, extremely long seasons, and huge numbers of turkey hunters. In order to bag one of these shrewd old birds, a turkey hunter must be willing to put in the extra effort and dig deep into his bag of tricks.
My good friend, "Cuz" Strickland of Mossy Oak fame and a legend in the Mississippi turkey woods, once described these high-pressured gobblers as politicians. When I asked him how he could compare such a fine game bird to a politician, he responded, "Because they promise you a lot and give you very little!"
Once the hordes of hunters take to the woods in mid-March, owling and calling at first light, the old gobblers that were so talkative only a few weeks earlier become hush-mouthed and extremely hard to locate. The few birds that remain vocal, survive by flying off the roost in the opposite direction of the early morning callers, causing great frustration for the hunters.
For most turkey hunters, the ideal Southern turkey hunt consists of setting up near a roosted bird, making a few seductive calls at daybreak, and having a logger-headed longbeard come strutting, drumming, and gobbling into shotgun range. The problem is that this scenario is a rare occurrence in the Mississippi turkey woods. Instead, most turkey hunts end shortly after they begin, with a dejected hunter heading back to his truck having been outwitted once again by a wily old longbeard. But for those few die-hard hunters that have learned the ways of the wild turkey, they know that the best hunting is yet to come.
While midday turkey hunting is not a traditional method, it can be very productive if you apply the proper tactics. The first thing to remember about turkey hunting in the middle of the day is to take your time and be patient. There is an old adage among midday turkey hunters that says, "If you're sweating, then you're moving too fast."
You may be surprised at how much ground you can cover and how much more game you encounter by moving along at a slow, cautious pace.
Each time you approach a likely looking spot, just sit down and call for a while. Give each set up at least 30 minutes before moving on to a new location. And whether you get a reply from a gobbler or not, stay alert and keep your gun at the ready. Just because a turkey refuses to answer doesn't mean he isn't on his way. On the other hand, if a gobbler does respond to your calls at this time of day, you can bet it won't be long before he makes his grand appearance.
Although I love to call to turkeys as much as anyone, sometimes the most deadly lure a hunter can have in his arsenal is silence. At times an old gobbler's curiosity can lead to his demise. For example, if you get an old tom responding to your calling and then you shut up, the gobbler occasionally just marches right over to see if the hen really had the audacity to leave in the middle of their conversation.
I first implemented the "silent treatment" on an old boss gobbler years ago at the suggestion of my mentor and turkey-hunting partner, Bruce Brady. I had been in pursuit of the same old longbeard for 28 straight days with no success. Having tried every call, every setup, and every technique that I had ever heard or read about, I was on the verge of admitting defeat. That's when Mr. Bruce told me about the "silent treatment". It was a tactic as yet untried, so I agreed.
When I hooted at dawn, the old tom gobbled right on schedule, and we moved in and set up. We made no calls until the gobbler flew down from his roost. At the sound of his wing beats, Mr. Bruce began a series of loud cackles on his box, and I followed suit on my slate. We were attempting to sound like several hens that were excited by the gobbler's arrival.
The old gobbler blasted back with a booming gobble. We cackled again, and he double-gobbled. Mr. Bruce grinned and whispered, "Now, let's see how he likes a little silence." The tom raged and gobbled for most of an hour, but we made no reply. And then the old gobbler hushed.
"Get ready! He's on his way!" Mr. Bruce excitedly whispered.
Cautiously, I slipped the safety off and eased the gun to my shoulder. It seemed an eternity had passed before he suddenly appeared like a ghost 30 steps away. As he passed behind the trunk of a large pine, I moved the barrel of my shotgun into position. When he reappeared, I killed him cleanly with a headshot.
That hunt taught me an important lesson about hunting longbeards that I have never forgotten. Almost every successful hunt for one of these wise old birds begins and ends with patience. The hunt basically boils down to which has the most patience — you or the gobbler.
There are two trains of thought when it comes to calling techniques. One is to call loud and aggressively, while the other is to call soft and cautiously. The heavily hunted birds that call the Magnolia State home have heard it all and are, frankly, tired of hearing it. And even though cutting, cackling, loud yelping and other types of aggressive calling has a place in turkey hunting, a more subtle approach seems to work better for our wary gobblers. In many cases, these birds have had bad experiences with their fair share of loudmouthed "hens". A few soft yelps and a couple of seductive purrs might be just what a shell-shocked longbeard wants to hear.
Another tactic that I have found to be productive is gobbling. However, the utmost caution should be used when applying this technique, especially on public land. This tactic should only be used as a last resort, and only if you believe there are no other hunters in the area. This tactic seems to work best on birds that respond readily to your calling, but refuse to come in close enough for a clean shot. Whether it's a matter of jealousy or being territorial, this tactic often results in an otherwise wary gobbler losing his cool and rushing in on a dead run to show the intruder who is the boss of the woods. Either way, gobbling is a good way to bring in an old tom when nothing else seems to work.
The key to success when hunting Mississippi longbeards is to be both patient and persistent. You must accept the fact that your hunt most likely will not begin and end on the same day. And even though getting hung up on a single boss gobbler for the entire season is a good possibility, I can't think of any better challenge for a turkey hunter.
TURKEY HUNTING HOTSPOTS
The Magnolia State 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. Here are a few of the better public land options in the state for hunting wild turkeys.
When it comes to the top Wildlife Management Areas for hunting wild turkeys, the guys at MDWFP tend to shy away from highlighting specific WMAs. They understandably don't want to place any undue hunting pressure on a particular WMA. However, hunters that study the data in the Spring Gobbler Hunting Survey can easily identify the better turkey WMAs in the state. And if Mississippi turkey hunters want more details about a specific WMA or the Spring Gobbler Hunting Survey, they can find everything they need by visiting the Mississippi Department of Wildlife, Fisheries, and Parks Web site at www.mdwfp.com.
Based on data from the 2012 Mississippi Wild Turkey Report, the top-producing WMAs in Turkey Region 1 in the northeast are Upper Sardis and Chickasaw WMAs.
Upper Sardis WMA is a 42,274-acre area located within the Holly Springs National Forest near Oxford in Lafayette County. The first two weeks of the regular spring season are permit-only hunts on this WMA.
Chickasaw WMA offers 28,000 acres of quality turkey habitat nestled within the Tombigbee National Forest near Houston in Chickasaw County.
Due to the impacts of flooding on the turkey population in Turkey Region 2 in the Mississippi Delta, hunter success is expected to be lower than other regions in the state. However, of all the public tracts in the Delta, the 60,000-acre Sunflower WMA located entirely in the Delta National Forest near Rolling Fork in Sharkey County shows the most promise. Turkey season on Sunflower runs from April 9 through May 1 with the first week allowing hunting by special permit only.
Turkey Region 3 in the east central\ part of the state offers a trio of excellent turkey-hunting opportunities in Bienville, Caney Creek and Tallahala WMAs. All three of these WMAs, totaling over 82,000 acres, are located in the Bienville National Forest and are scattered across Scott, Smith, Jasper, and Newton Counties.
In order to reduce hunting pressure during the early season, the first several days of the season are limited to permitted hunters who applied for the special draw period and were randomly selected.
Unfortunately the majority of Turkey Region 4 in the southwest is comprised of private property. Sandy Creek WMA with its 16,407 acres located near Natchez in Adams and Franklin counties and surrounded by the Homochitto National Forest is the top pick for this region. Hunting during the first two weeks of the season on this WMA is limited to permitted hunters through a draw process.
Recently acquired Canemount WMA in Claiborne County offers hunters a unique opportunity to experience 3,500 acres of the finest public lands turkey hunting to be found in the country. However, turkey hunting on Canemount WMA is by special permit only. And these limited permits are sure to be in high demand.
Turkey Zone 5 in the southeast is home to two excellent wild turkey WMAs in Chickasawhay and Leaf River. The DeSoto National Forest encompasses both of these WMAs.
The 35,000-acre Chickasawhay WMA is located in Jones County, while Leaf River and its 41,411 acres lies farther to the south in Perry County.
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.