Here is what the state's top turkey biologists are predicting for the 2012 spring turkey season.
According to Dave Godwin, wild turkey program coordinator with the Mississippi Department of Wildlife, Fisheries, and Parks, the abundance or lack of 2-year-old gobblers is a critical factor in predicting the outcome of the Magnolia State's spring turkey season. These inexperienced young birds tend to gobble more than their older counterparts and are much more susceptible to being lured into shotgun range than a seasoned gobbler that has strutted more than a few times around the turkey woods.
Each year, a group of MDWFP wildlife biologists utilizes numerous data sets to aid them in estimating what the turkey numbers will be during the coming season. Due to the fact that jakes are off limits to adult hunters during Mississippi's turkey season, the brood survey data from 2010 and jake observations per hour from the 2011 season are paramount in determining the potential success that awaits turkey hunters in each of the state's five turkey regions in 2012. And while carryover of older gobblers is an important factor, it is the overall number of 2-year-old gobblers that holds the key to our hunting success each spring.
Nesting conditions for most of the Magnolia State in 2010 were greatly improved when compared to those experienced in recent years. This improved hatch should result in a significant increase in the number of 2-year-old birds that hunters will encounter during the 2012 season. Therefore, the state's biologists are anticipating that the wild turkey harvest rates during the 2012 season will be higher than they have been in the last four years.
"The increase in 2010 reproduction was not only seen in the statewide averages, but also was the case in every region of the state," Godwin noted. "This means that we should see an increase in the number of 2-year-old gobblers statewide this spring."
However, there are always exceptions, both good and bad, to any general statewide forecast. So let's take a closer look at the Magnolia State's five turkey regions and see what each has to offer this spring.
Turkey Region 1 - Northeast
Located in North-central and Northeast Mississippi, this 21-county region has a fairly somber turkey hunting outlook for 2012. According to the 2009 brood survey, wild turkey reproduction in this region was the lowest on record, with 0.94 poults per hen. Unfortunately, the reproduction data from 2010 and 2011 didn't show much improvement.
"Turkey populations across Northeast Mississippi have been dropping steadily for the past several years, and neither the brood survey data from 2010 nor the Spring Gobbler Hunter Survey data from last season indicate that things have turned around," said Adam Butler, MDWFP wild turkey program biologist. "So hunters in Region 1 should expect a 2012 season that mirrors what they have experienced for the past several years."
Butler also noted that Turkey Region 1 has had a history of poor participation in the Spring Gobbler Hunter Survey, which opens the door for harvest, gobbling activity, spur length and turkey observation data being biased as a result of limited sample sizes. However, Mississippi's turkey reproduction data is collected using the MDWFP Brood Survey, which is more accurate since it is not affected by sample size concerns.
Turkey Region 2 - Delta
The 10 Delta counties found along the Mississippi River make up this flood-prone turkey region. Spring floodwaters have a significant impact on wild turkey reproduction and hunting in this area. Three consecutive years of record high hatches from 2005 to 2007 were followed by three of the worst hatches on record for this turkey region. As expected, the dismal reproduction rates resulted in jake observations in 2009 and 2010 taking a major hit.
"The Delta has obviously suffered of late due to spring flooding, but the area did see a pretty decent hatch during 2010, so jake observations were up big this past season, suggesting that there will be a good crop of 2-year-old birds out there for 2012," said Butler. "However, this may not necessarily translate into a banner season in the Delta, because this 2-year-old cohort of gobblers will likely be almost the only male birds around due to the record poor hatches in 2008, 2009 and this past spring."
For private lands, Butler strongly suggests that Region 2 hunters should be conservative with their harvest. Delta turkey hunters need to realize that this group of 2-year-old gobblers is going to have to get them by until the 2014 season at the earliest, and that is assuming we have a good hatch this summer. Hunters in the Delta Region can only cross their fingers and hope that the floodwaters and wet weather will stay away this spring and allow the turkey numbers to recover.
Turkey Region 3 – East Central
Comprised of 21 counties in East Central Mississippi, this region has seen a steady increase in overall turkey numbers over the past few years. After leveling off somewhat in 2010, Region 3's turkey population growth appears to be headed back in a positive direction.
"Turkey Region 3 has been coming on strong the last several years, and it looks like more of the same for the 2012 season," said Butler. "Jake observations were way up last spring, much higher than they have been in over 10 years, so it ought to be really good in this region this spring."
Not only can East Central Region hunters expect to encounter greater numbers of the more vocal 2-year-olds, thanks to a decent carryover of older gobblers, turkey hunting in Region 3 should remain above average in 2012.
According to Butler, the hunters in the East Central Region would be wise to focus on the counties along the I-20 corridor. Populations in that area of Turkey Region 3 have been booming for the last several years. And even though the population most likely peaked in 2010, there should still be good numbers of gobblers left in the woods this spring.
Turkey Region 4 - Southwest
The 12 counties that make up this Southwest Mississippi region continue to be the shining star in the Magnolia State turkey woods. And while the turkey populations in Turkey Region 4 may not be back at the unbelievable levels experienced during the late 1980s, they aren't too far off the mark.
"It really ought to be incredible in Southwest Mississippi this season," said Butler. "We saw record jake observation rates last spring that were absolutely through the roof (31.3 jakes seen per 100 hours hunted)!"
"We suspected this would happen because the brood survey data from 2010 was just incredible for this region," Butler added. "Over 50 percent of all hens raised poults in the summer of 2010.
"Total turkey observations from the Spring Gobbler Hunter Survey were also off the charts. I mean, literally, you should see the spike in the data. It's higher than it has ever been since we started keeping Spring Gobbler Hunter Survey data back in 1996. Harvest rates should jump big time this spring.
"I'm not going to go so far out on a limb as to say that things are going to be like the 1980s all over again, but based on the data, it is pretty safe to assume that the 2012 turkey season will probably be the best hunting this region has seen since that time."
The Southwest Region has been the most consistent turkey-producing region in the Magnolia State over the past several years, and that trend doesn't appear to be changing anytime soon. The Southwest Region will likely be the state's only true wild turkey hotspot when it comes to gobblers in all age classes for the 2012 season.
Turkey Region 5 - Southeast
The final turkey region on our list is comprised of 18 counties located in the piney woods of Southeast Mississippi. Not unlike the other turkey regions in the state, Turkey Region 5 experienced a considerable drop in reproduction rates in 2009, which came on the heels of an equally poor hatch in 2008. As expected, jake observations followed suit with significant declines during the 2009 and 2010 seasons. However, a great hatch in 2010 helped turn this region's negative trend around.
"Although not quite to the same extent, the jake and total turkey observation data collected in 2011 for Turkey Region 5 was similar to what we saw in the Southwest Region," said Butler. "Things are looking really good for the Southeast Region, and 2012 should be one of the better, if not the best, seasons of the last decade."
2012 Mississippi Spring Turkey Season and Bag Limits
Youth Season: March 8-March 14 (on private and authorized public lands only)
Regular Season: March 15-May 1*
* Spring turkey season is closed in the following sections:
- Coahoma County: in the section west of Hwy. 61, east of Hwy. 1, north of Eagles Nest- Friars Point Rd, & south of Coahoma-Friars Point Rd
- Leflore County: west of Hwy. 7 and Hwy. 49E and north of Moorehead Rd. and south of Hwy. 442
- Quitman County: Entire county
- Sunflower County: south of Hwy.442 and east of Hwy. 3 and Hwy. 49W and north of Berclair Rd
One adult gobbler (or gobbler with at least a 6-inch beard) per day; three per season**
** Hunters 15 years of age and younger may harvest one gobbler of choice per day (regardless of beard length), three per spring season.