Mississippi Turkey Hunting Forecast for 2014

Mississippi Turkey Hunting Forecast for 2014
Bruce Layne shot this 18 pound 8 inch beard turkey Christmas eve.

There's plenty to go around when it comes to Mississippi turkey hunting.  According to the Mississippi Department of Wildlife, Fisheries and Parks, 2012's hatch was very good, and turkey populations around the state are on the upswing.

History shows, however, that many factors can have a detrimental effect on turkey populations, and a couple of very wet springs or a massive hurricane coming ashore during the nesting period can have a dramatic effect on the year's hatch.

Human factors, too, affect turkey populations.  As urban areas encroach on wild lands and major highways dissect the landscape, it becomes ever more important for those of us who care about turkeys and other wildlife to manage our resources wisely.

Toward that end, biologists from MDWFP and the Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries are working together with experts from the National Wild Turkey Federation to ensure the future of the birds in Mississippi.  By managing resources well today, these project seek to ensure the viability of turkey populations tomorrow.

Brandon Bobo is the NWTF regional wildlife biologist for Mississippi.  He said the turkey population in Mississippi has been trending down for the last several years.

"We have a very healthy population," he said.  "Since the year 2000, it's been higher than historical levels.  But in recent years it has been trending down."

This trend isn't limited to the Magnolia State, Bobo said.

"This is actually a trend throughout the Southeast," he said.  "But specifically in Mississippi and what the MDWFP has found is that yearly flood amounts have a great correlation to the hatch."

During the spring of 2103, Bobo said, portions of Mississippi experienced very heavy flooding.

"That usually leads to reduced nesting success," he said.  "This is especially true in areas such as the Delta and the southwest part of the state."  Unfortunately, Bobo said flooding is simply an act of nature that wildlife managers can't control.

"However, there are things we can do to mitigate some of those losses," he said.  "One of those things is to create higher quality nesting habitat.  Here in Mississippi, the limiting factors that we usually have are the nesting cover and the brood rearing cover.  So what we're trying to address are those specific habitats that give the birds more success with nesting."

Bobo said that wildlife managers taking a landscape approach to turkey conservation in the state. That means a biological approach, looking across the region from the 50,000-foot altitude, is the best way.

"But at the same time, we're getting down in the dirt and meeting with landowners and working hand in hand with them to see what their goals are.  Right now, we're in the third year of an agreement with the USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service, which deals with a large landscape across 39 counties in the south part of the state.  It's tied directly to the Longleaf Pine Initiative, and the agreement allows us to meet with private landowners of any size."

Under this agreement, Bobo said, wildlife biologists can work with landowners to create detailed management plans of 5 to 10 year durations.  After meeting with a landowner, he said, the first thing that a biologist does is write a Conservation Action Plan.

"The NRCS helps pay for that," Bobo said.  "Then the NRCS looks at the plan to see what program fit the landowner's needs the best.  The landowner isn't obligated to participate in any kind of cost share program.  What we do is a free service to them."

A new program that's underway is "Save the Habitat. Save the Hunt."

"Under this program, across the nation, we're going to try to enhance or conserve at least 4 million acres and create 1.5 million new hunters," Bobo said.  "Then we're going to open access for hunting on at least 500,000 acres.

"Mississippi is right now finalizing our state strategic plan, which includes exactly how many acres we want to open for access, how many acres we want to conserve and enhance, and how many hunters we want to create."

This is a landscape approach as well, Bobo said, but within that framework managers are focusing on certain areas that have the direst need for habitat work.

On public land, NWTF and MDWFP are working on a number of wildlife management areas across the state.

"A lot of that involves burning, and herbicide application for exotic and invasive species," Bobo said.  "The main thing we try to do on those public areas is address the limiting factors of nesting and brood rearing habitat, and early successional habitat.  In other words, the first, second and third years of vegetation that grows after burning."

The MDWFP and NWTF have just finished a project on Copiah County WMA, Bobo said.

"We also are working on Noxubee National Wildlife Refuge," he said.  "That's also a burning and herbicide project that's a large scale project under a 5-year agreement."

Another federal land project is on the Bogue Chitto National Wildlife Refuge.

"They're in need of assistance with their burning, which they've been doing every year," Bobo said.  "Due to government cutbacks they've lost the money to continue.  So the NWTF has stepped in, and we're going to contribute yearly for the next five years to help them with their burning."

The NWTF involvement in state land management is likely to increase over the next few months.  In December, Bobo and other NWTF biologists were scheduled to meet with WMA managers from across the state to discuss ways in which the NWTF can be more effective in helping the MDWFP to manage WMA lands.

"We want to really make a difference on those public lands," Bobo said.  "We're trying to work with both public and private lands, but the reality is that most of the woodlands in Mississippi are privately owned.  It's good to be able to get out there with the private landowners and meet with them and try to give them advice."

If you are a private landowner in Mississippi and want to improve the turkey habitat on your land, you can contact Brandon Bobo at (256) 452-5820 or e-mail him at bbobo@nwtf.net.

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