Mississippi has tons of public-land wild turkeys positioned all over the state. There is no trouble, though, figuring out just where they are.

That's because our Magnolia State hunters are extremely savvy at pinpointing the most viable turkey flocks around the state. The competition to find the best places to hunt on public land is pretty darn fierce.

Furthermore, when success is found, heck, nobody will talk about it. That means you're on your own when it comes to conducting inquiries and research into the hottest public areas for a decent crack at a longbearded Eastern gobbler.

The next trick is to try to nail down a selection of sites to hunt where the gobblers' knees are not knocking together from shot nerves as a result of all the hunting pressure from terminal doses of hunter hen calling.

To that end, hopefully this review will open some doors of areas to consider.

Turkey flock

Without a doubt, the statewide turkey flock has been improving gradually over the past several decades. We have a good, highly viable flock in most sections of the state.

Still, as hunters know, wild turkeys are subject to a number of environmental and biological trends that can cause fluctuations in their numbers as well as successes at reproduction.

The factors that can impact the status of our turkeys includes suitable habitat, food and water resources, nesting cover, poult hatch results, predation, weather, hunting pressure, harvest rates and even out-of-season poaching or a disregard for seasonal bag limits.

Estimates on the size of the entire Magnolia State flock are certainly hard to confirm. Currently, figures like 350,000 birds are mentioned by various sources.

The annual harvest is also difficult to calculate because at present the state does not have a required reporting or tagging system, but an annual harvest estimate usually runs around 35,000 to 40,000 gobblers.

Last year, Magnolia State hunters took 29,244 birds, according to Dave Godwin, the new wild turkey program coordinator. This harvest was accomplished during 278,393 man-days afield.

These statistics indicate our statewide turkey flock is in good shape. Adequate birds are indicated with decent harvest numbers to keep the turkey hunting faithful coming back each season for another round of challenges.

Speaking of hunters, a report by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service reports Mississippi has 245,000 licensed hunters - both residents and non-residents. Of that number, roughly 95,000 hunt turkeys.

The interesting part is that from that number, 20,000 hunters pursue turkeys exclusively on public lands. Around 69,000 turkey hunters hunt on private and public lands.

These potential numbers of turkey hunters on our state's nearly two million acres of public hunting lands is still a formidable population of folks out there chasing turkeys on a fairly regular basis. That makes it all the more important to get out into the woods to conduct some scouting and decision-making about the best places to work a willing gobbler.

Statewide layout

"The Mississippi Department of Wildlife, Fisheries, and Parks has divided the state into five turkey regions to allow for better management and the efficient delivery of wildlife services all across the state," Godwin said. "The 2008 season should be a good one in most areas of the state. We had a good hatch in most areas in 2006, which will mean more 2-year-old birds for us to hunt this season."

Each of the state's five distinct regions has its own unique wild turkey dynamics, but also a lot of commonalities as well. Several public hunting areas are also located in each region. With the state now having 48 wildlife management areas and an additional 11 national wildlife refuges, Mississippie is dotted with potential public turkey hunting areas.

One easy common-sense strategy to boil down the better public lands to turkey hunt is to narrow down one or two choices within each of the five state regions.

Region One

This region incorporates 21 counties in the north-central and northeast section of the state. The habitat is primarily oak/hickory/pine forest.

The 2007 brood survey was the lowest in the state at 1.37 poults per hen. Hunters took 2.8 gobblers for every 100 hours of hunting. Gobbling activity was up, too. Hunters observed 91.9 turkeys per 100 hunting hours.

The Upper Sardis Wildlife Management Area contains 42,000 acres within the Holly Springs National Forest in Lafayette County. The terrain is mostly mixed shortleaf pine and upland hardwoods. This is a good area to work for turkey hunting with easy access from Oxford, Holly Springs or New Albany. Set up a blind in an open area for an afternoon hunt.

Region Two

The agricultural and wetland-rich Delta portion of the state contains 10 counties. The wooded areas consist mainly of oak/gum/cypress timber. Because of the lowlands environment here, annual spring flooding can be a serious problem for the localized turkey flocks. However, the highly diverse mix of habitats allows turkeys to move around without much notice or harassment.

Region Two has had good brood hatches recently, including 2007, when researchers counted 2.49 poults per hen. Hunters took on average three gobblers for every 100 hunting hours. This was down slightly from 3.3 the season before. Both gobbling activity and gobblers observed increased during the past couple of seasons.

Turkey action in the Delta is good, and a big part of the area is dedicated to open public-hunting lands.

The Delta National Forest at the southern end of the Mississippi Delta is home to the 58,000-acre Sunflower WMA. Often thought of as a prime waterfowl hunting area, Sunflower is a hotspot for gobbler chases as well. The unique aspect to this WMA is that it is 100 percent bottomland hardwood forest, the last in the country. Also, it is wet.

"You walk around in the Delta forest through the Sunflower WMA, and you'd better have some knee-high rubber Lacrosse turkey boots. Snake-resistant ones would even be better. Ducks aren't the only birds flying here either. Just bring a water-resistant seat pad when you set up on one of these greentree gobblers," said James Harper of Vicksburg.

Region Three

This is the central section of the state with 21 counties. Interstate 20 traverses right through the middle of it, so access is super easy. More than 50 percent of the forest makeup of the region consists of loblolly and shortleaf pines. The hardwood bottoms lining creeks and other drainages are oaks and hickories, so turkeys will feed in these bottoms. They love acorns.

Last summer, biologists counted 1.77 poults per hen.

The 2006 harvest stats were down from the previous year to 2.5 gobblers per every 100 hours of hunting conducted. It should be noted, though, that 56 percent of the gobblers taken in the region were over 3 years old with spurs in excess of 1 inch. Another 18 percent were aged over 4 years with spurs greater than 1.25 inches.

Over the eight-week season, counting the youth week, gobbling activity was up. The total number of turkeys seen by hunters was only down slightly, but the numbers were still good at 67 turkeys for each 100 hunting hours.

Another national forest is centered in this region named the Bienville National Forest. Total acreage tops 178,000. There are two very good state wildlife management areas here including Caney Creek WMA and Tallahala WMA. The vote goes to Tallahala with its 28,000 acres.

"I have operated my hand-made turkey call shop in Raleigh for several years right down the road from Tallahala," says Paul Meek. "I get lots of customers stopping back in the shop to watch me craft my calls and to give me reports on the turkey hunting action over there. I never hear anything but good reports on the number of birds heard in Tallahala, but other hunters are always in there on weekends. A mid-week hunt would be a good bet."

Region Four

The highly informed turkey hunters in Mississippi know this part of the state is no secret when it comes to turkey hunting. It's been that way for more than 25 years. This region consists of the 12 counties in the southwestern section of the state. The headquarters here is in Natchez on the big river.

The timber is widely mixed, but most of the ridgetops are lined with sky-reaching pines. The bottoms are so deep some of them ought to be rappelled down, or at least slid down on the fanny.

The hunting trick here is often to get just off the top of a ridge along the hillside hoping to call a bird that will trek along the top. It is easier to get a gobbler to come down a hill than up one.

Region Four's 2007 brood survey wasn't very strong. Researchers counted 1.68 poults per hen.

The harvest rate in Region Four is the highest in the state at 3.4 gobblers for each 100 hours of recorded hunting. Ironically, gobbling activity was down somewhat last year, but turkey observations were up, likely due to an exceptional hatch in 2005. There is simply no denying that this region is the top turkey hotspot in Mississippi.

The area has two excellent WMAs located in Adams and Franklin counties. These are Caston Creek WMA and Sandy Creek WMA with 35,000 and 16, 500 acres, respectively.

It would be difficult to select one over the other, but there really is no need to flip a coin on this bet. They are located so close to each other that a short week trip would allow hunting them both. Expect out-of-state hunters in the area all week, every week.

Once a gobbler announces his position here, he is subject to approach from multiple angles. If you hear or see other hunters, the best thing to do is get out of the area and not get into a calling duel. It isn't a bad idea to carry a foot-square piece of hunter orange material, and pin it to a nearby bush with a clothespin.

Region Five

Eighteen counties in the southeastern part of the state make up this region. This is heavy pine territory both on the sandy coastal flatlands and the associated rolling piney hills north of the coast. A number of secondary rivers crisscross this region, and in many cases they are lined with hardwoods.

Many times, turkeys will roost right along the river banks, giving them the option of flying off to either side. If they go the opposite way across the water, you are stuck. Also don't press into a roost area at the first aerial gobble, because you could inadvertently spook them over the river. The big trick here is to coax them to fly down in your direction.

Harvest rates have been down, gobbling activity is way down and turkey observations as reported by hunters were also down the last couple of seasons. Why? Let's not forget the significant impact on this whole coastal region by Hurricane Katrina. The habitat was literally ripped up out of the soil or blown down flat. What timber withstood it had no branches or canopy cover. Even today, the whole region is still recovering from the storm.

Things, however, may be looking up. The brood survey for 2007 was, by far, the strongest in the state. Biologists counted 3.51 poults per hen last summer, which means hunters should see and hear more birds this year.

Although Region Five has nine WMAs, the recommended strategy here is to go north to get away from the beach counties where the hurricane impact was less devastating. Up in Perry County is the 42,000-acre Leaf River WMA near McLain.

Leaf WMA can be a tough area to hunt. Though much of the timber cover is pine, a lot of it is not open like a typical pine plantation. The ground cover comes in two types, one being heavy duty thickets and the other being totally impenetrable. Search until you find a section of woods that is open where a hunter can sneak around without making much noise. Gobblers will be playing the same game. Stake out a ground blind, call intermittently and stay alert.

Mississippi has no shortage of gobbler hotspots to try out in every sector of the state. Of course, some places are better than others, but regardless of where the dart hits the map in picking a public place to hunt, every hunter is going to have to do his homework.

Tune up your calls, waterproof your boots and pattern your shotgun. Then lay out a cookbook or two. I recommend stir-fry.