Five Regions: Geography And Louisiana Turkeys

Five Regions: Geography And Louisiana Turkeys

Louisiana's diverse terrain and habitat offer the spring turkey hunter any number of tantalizing options. (March 2007)

Photo by Phillip Jordan

I killed my first wild turkey in 1992 in Alabama, and this conquest sealed my fate: I was hopelessly addicted to the sport of chasing turkeys in the spring.

However, that first bird was called in by a guide, and I resolved at that moment that I was going to learn to call and hunt on my own here in Louisiana -- even if it meant every turkey within miles would head for the next parish, guffawing all the way at my antics. What happened to me the following season helped cement my passion for the sport.

After a morning of less-than-successful hunting, three jakes suddenly appeared, hurtling in at breakneck speed, each apparently intent on beating the other two to my calls. Maybe they only wanted to try and rescue "her" from whatever terror was making her shriek like that.

I slowly lifted my gun, which had been lying across my knees, as the turkeys ran closer; by the time I had my gun shouldered and the safety off, the gobblers screeched more or less to a halt barely 20 feet away. One of the young gobblers that had come charging in to my croaky, creaky calling practically ran over me, and I had to blast him in what amounted to self-defense. In so doing, I had my first Louisiana gobbler -- albeit a jake with a 3-inch stub of a beard.



That initial encounter with a Louisiana wild turkey took place the Western Longleaf region, one of the state's five habitat regions defined by Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries biologists. The Western Longleaf region consists of 11 parishes in western Louisiana -- Allen, Beauregard, Calcasieu, Evangeline, Grant, Jefferson Davis, Natchitoches, Rapides, Sabine, Vernon and Winn.

Historically, the major timber type in this region was the longleaf pine that lent the region its name. In recent years, the timber complement has been converted into one containing more loblolly pine forests.

The 4.5 million-acre region is mostly privately owned, but 13 percent -- some 600,000 acres -- is public land, the majority of which lies in the federally-owned Kisatchie National Forest. Wild turkeys have mostly done quite well in this region; the exception to that is in the most southerly parishes, where suitable habitat is lacking. In addition to the half-million acres of national forest in this region, there are several wildlife management areas in these parishes, including Boise-Vernon, Peason Ridge, Fort Polk, Sabine and West Bay.

According to the state's wild turkey program leader, Larry Savage, the Western Longleaf Pine Region could be the prime area of the state for turkey hunting in 2007. "I'd probably put this area at the top for the upcoming season," he said. "There is a lot of public land here with the Kisatchie National Forest along with some really good wildlife management areas. Personally, I hunt the Kisatchie a lot simply because it's 'my' land -- a big chunk of public land paid for by my taxes. It's so large that habitat diversity is pretty extensive. You can just about find any type of forest, hills, swamps, bottomlands, etc. here as anywhere.

"If you're willing to walk into the heart of some of this area, you can find some really good hunting away from the majority of hunters. Most aren't willing to walk a couple of miles to find unpressured turkeys."

Also in this region is an arguably unique hunting opportunity: Fort Polk Wildlife Management Area, which is the property of the U.S. Army. According to Savage, the area has an excellent population of wild turkeys. The only problem: You may not be able to hunt there on the day you had in mind.

"When the Army has training going on in the area, you may not be allowed there to hunt," he said. "Unfortunately, you won't know that until you drive up to the entrance before dawn on the day you want to hunt to find signs informing you that the area is closed to all but U.S. Army troops that day. Hit it lucky on a day when signs are not posted and you could have a day to remember."


The second-best region for the spring turkey season, according to Savage, is the Atchafalaya and South Mississippi Delta Region. This region in south-central Louisiana encompasses the parishes of Ascension, Assumption, Avoyelles, Cameron, Iberia, Iberville, Jefferson, Lafayette, Lafourche, Orleans, Plaquemines, Pointe Coupee, St. Bernard, St. Charles, St. James, St. Landry, St. Martin, St. Mary, Terrebonne, Vermilion and W. Baton Rouge.

Turkey hunting is expected to be good for the coming season in all of this region except for the coastal parishes, which provide inadequate turkey habitat. The best hunting is in Avoyelles, Iberville, Pointe Coupee, St. Landry and W. Baton Rouge parishes.

In general, the forest here is cypress and bottomland hardwoods. Of the approximately 2 million acres in these parishes, 128,000 are publicly owned. Several wildlife management areas lie within this region, among them Spring Bayou, Sherburne, and Thistlethwaite. Sherburne, 43,600 acres of mainly hardwood bottomland, is the crown jewel of the region.

According to Savage, one portion of Sherburne is better because of habitat that's not only more attractive to turkeys but easier to hunt as well. "The better habitat there is on the north end and in particular north of I-10 and the Highway 190 corridor," he said. "You'll find more elevated sites here, whereas the portion of Sherburne below the I-10/Highway 190 corridor is too low and swampy. There are turkeys there, but they're harder to hunt because it's so wet, and the undergrowth is so thick."




Ranking third for the upcoming turkey season, in Savage's view among the five regions of the state, this area of northwest Louisiana takes in the parishes of Bienville, Bossier, Caddo, Caldwell, Claiborne, DeSoto, Jackson, LaSalle, Lincoln, Red River, Union and Webster. Of the roughly 4 million acres of land in this region, 270,000 acres are open to the public for hunting. Included are several WMAs: Jackson-Bienville, Union, Loggy Bayou, Bodcau and Bayou Pierre.

One of the young gobblers

that had come charging in to

my croaky, creaky calling

practically ran over me,

and I had to blast him

in what amounted

to self-defense.

"The Jackson-Bienville management area is probably the best in this region," Savage said. "This past season, hunting there was really good, with 50 gobblers taken during the season. The Weyerhaeuser Company owns Jackson-Bienville, and they have a good aggressive timber management program going on there, whi

ch includes prescribed burning and management for the endangered red-cockaded woodpecker. In managing for these woodpeckers, activities that help the birds also work in favor of turkeys.

"In addition, the National Wild Turkey Federation in partnership with our department, Entergy, Anadarko Petroleum and others has several major projects ongoing on Jackson-Bienville, which also provide and enhances habitat for turkeys here."



Ranking fourth on the list for wild turkey production regions is the North Mississippi Delta Region in northeast Louisiana. This region contains the parishes of Catahoula, Concordia, East Carroll, Franklin, Madison, Morehouse, Ouachita, Richland, Tensas and West Carroll.

The quality of turkey hunting will vary from parish to parish because of the diversity of habitat on these lands, which vary from poorly drained areas along the Mississippi River to rolling pine/hardwood hills.

Some excellent public lands are to be found in this region, such as Tensas National Wildlife Refuge, and state areas like Big Lake, Buckhorn, Boeuf, Red River and Three Rivers wildlife management areas.

"Big Lake Wildlife Management Area, as well as the Tensas National Wildlife Refuge, have both had good hatches of birds the past few years, and I expect hunting there this spring to be good," said Savage. "Because of the popularity of these areas, they receive a good bit of hunting pressure, so I'd suggest that hunters do as I do when hunting the Kisatchie: Put on your walking shoes and head for the heart of these areas away from other hunters."



Bringing up the rear is the Southeast Loblolly Region, which in the past was the prime area of the state for turkeys.

The problem with this area has to do mainly with urban sprawl. Much of this region lies adjacent to New Orleans and Baton Rouge, the state's two largest metropolitan areas. As a result, acres that formerly held good populations of turkeys and other wildlife have been converted to subdivisions and housing developments.

In addition, the effects of Hurricane Katrina in 2005 still persist in this part of the state, with much of the area's forest and turkey habitat having been destroyed. Authorities believe that while the effect was severe, the long-term outlook appears to be brighter as habitat is slowly restored.

The area includes the parishes of East Baton Rouge, East Feliciana, Livingston, St. Helena, St. Tammany, Tangipahoa, Washington and West Feliciana. This region consists of 1.9 million acres, but only 59,000 of those, or 3.1 percent, are available as public land. Most of the forested habitat in this region is managed for pine production.

"If you're willing to walk into the heart of some of this area, you can find some really good hunting away from the majority of hunters. Most aren't willing to walk a couple of miles to find unpressured turkeys."

--Larry Savage, LDWF

Among the public areas located in this region are Ben's Creek, Sandy Hollow and Tunica Hills WMAs. "All of the parishes in this region have wild turkeys, but the number of birds varies greatly, even within the same parish, due to habitat restrictions," said Savage.

Tunica Hills WMA is a rather unusual spot. The steep clay bluffs and timber types give you the impression that you're not in Louisiana anymore. The LDWF recognizes that 5,783-acre Tunica Hills offers unique flora and fauna. "Terrain in the area is typified by rugged hills, bluffs and ravines," reads the area's description on the LDWF Web site. "These bluff lands offer a diverse habitat that supports some species of plants and animals not found elsewhere in Louisiana. At least 20 species of plants classified as rare in Louisiana are found on this area. Two of these species have not been found to occur anywhere else in Louisiana."


Savage offered a suggestion for turkey hunters around the state for the upcoming turkey season: If you bag a banded gobbler, it's very important that you report your harvest to the state agency.

"We're into harvest management and we're trying to see how many of the banded gobblers are taken by hunters," he said. "We know we need to keep our annual harvest of gobblers between 30 and 40 percent to allow adults to move up into the older age-class. As long as we can keep our harvest rate within that range, we feel that the population will be able to sustain this harvest. This is why we've been conservative in our season length and limits.

"We would also like for private landowners to allow our department personnel to come in to trap, band and immediately release turkeys on their property. We trap prior to the season opening, and it doesn't scare them away. I trapped two limb-hanger gobblers in an area, and six days later, I trapped the same two birds again."

According to the latest information provided by the LDWF, there will be several changes in opening dates and areas for hunting in 2007. Hunters are urged to study the turkey hunting regulations pamphlet, or visit the LDWF Web site (the address for which is for the latest available information on hunting in particular areas.

On the basis of this examination of the five regions of the state, Louisiana's turkey hunters should feel proud of all that has taken place over the past few decades to ensure that those dedicated to the pursuit of this singularly American fowl can find the big birds virtually everywhere in the state today.

Another thing this look around the state has revealed is that Louisiana is truly a diverse state. From the rolling clay pine hills to river bottom areas to thick hardwood bottomlands to the unique bluffs and ravines, Bayou State turkey hunters should be able to choose the habitat type they like to hunt. With some serious pre-season scouting and, in many areas, a willingness to burn some shoe leather, hunters should find turkey season 2007 to be a good one.

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