The 2012 turkey season was one of strange contrasts. Some of the ample 2011 mast crop was still on the ground when the spring green-up began. Hens nested earlier than normal, and hunters had to adapt to the changes.

Will 2013 see the same sort of issues? Another ample mast crop across much of the state was washed away or soured by the January rains and freezing temperatures. Still, deer hunters reported seeing large flocks of both gobblers and hens, giving promise to the coming season.

"It (2012) was a strange season for sure," said Richard Latham, an avid turkey hunter from Scott County. "However, by all indications, the coming season is going to be a very good one. I'm not sure I believe all this talk of global warming has anything to do with turkey habits, but I can see where it could have last year.

"We have the population here in Central Mississippi - some of the biggest flocks I've seen. Another good year, and we'll be calling these the glory days of turkey hunting."

Starkville's Dave Godwin is the Mississippi Department of Wildlife, Fisheries & Parks Wild Turkey Program coordinator. A veteran wildlife biologist stationed at Mississippi State University, Godwin is in position to keep his finger on the pulse of the state population of eastern wild turkeys.

Mississippi Sportsman caught up with Godwin and asked what hunters could expect for the upcoming 2013 turkey season. Here are his thoughts on the upcoming hunting season:

 

Mississippi Sportsman:Will hunters see more turkeys in the woods this spring?

Godwin: The great news is that the 2012 hatch has been the best statewide hatch we have seen in 10 years. Hunters in every region of the state should expect to see more turkeys in the woods this upcoming season compared to last year.

Of course, the 2012 hatch will result in seeing more hens and jakes, rather than longbeards, this season.

The 2011 hatch was not a great one statewide. In fact, eastcentral Mississippi was the only region where the 2011 hatch was better than the 2010 hatch.

The 2011 hatch is important when we discuss the 2013 spring season, because that hatch will determine how many 2-year-old birds we have in the population (this season). Two-year-old gobblers tend to be very important, since they are usually more susceptible to harvest than older birds.

The 2010 hatch was a good hatch year statewide. This resulted in good numbers of 2-year-old gobblers in most areas last season, and should equate to some carry-over of older birds for the 2013 season.

Regionally, the Delta will be an area of concern. Flood water had a negative impact on turkey reproduction there in 2008, 2009 and 2011. Fortunately, this region had a good hatch this year, plus a decent hatch in 2010.

Still, poor reproduction in three of the past five years have resulted in a lower population in this region, and we will likely need at least one, and maybe two more good hatches to bounce back.

Southwest Mississippi is a regional hotspot. While this region did not have a great hatch in 2011, Southwest Mississippi has led the state in turkey hatches over most of the past several years.

Strong reproduction in past years, combined with a great 2012 hatch, has things really looking up in this region.

 

Mississippi Sportsman: Did the mild winter and early spring of 2011-12, along with exceptional mast crops across the state, benefit turkeys?

Godwin: These factors probably do not have a significant impact on carryover, but they do have a positive impact on turkey population. A mild winter, combined with great food resources, means that turkeys go into the reproductive cycle in great physical condition - which sets the stage for a great hatch. Hatch success is also significantly impacted by weather during the nesting and brood rearing periods.

 

Mississippi Sportsman: Did hens nest earlier than normal during the spring of 2012? Will hens raise two broods in a single year?

Godwin: Yes. Spring 2012 was unusual in that it was so early. The green-up was early, gobbling started early, and even breeding and nesting started early.

This could have caused a problem for some hunters, since gobblers were being attracted by eager hens earlier in the season. As a turkey hunter, I find it difficult to compete with a live hen calling for a gobblers attention.

Regarding multiple nests, turkey hens that are not successful (and survive) do try to re-nest. For this reason, we see poults of varying ages and sizes on the ground during the summer.

However, it is not correct that a successful hen would abandon a brood and re-nest like we see in some other bird species. If they are successful in hatching off a brood, they will shift their energy to raising that brood.

 

Mississippi Sportsman: Are any areas of the state not seeing an increase in population?

Godwin: The hatch this year was above average, statewide. Therefore all areas of the state will see an increase when compared to last year.

As I have already stated, when we compare to the 10-year average; we expect turkey numbers to be lower than average in the Delta, and Southwest Mississippi should be a regional hotspot with numbers well above the 10-year average.

 

Mississippi Sportsman: What age group of gobblers will hunters most encounter during the 2013 season?

Godwin: Jakes. Only East Mississippi would expect to see more 2-year-old gobblers than we saw last year. Where the 2010 hatch was good, hunters might be seeing some increase in 3-year-old birds.

This is not to say good numbers of older birds are not out there; it's just that jakes are always the biggest male population group.

 

Mississippi Sportsman: Fast forward to January 2013. Autumn saw another good mast crop, and winter weather has been average or warmer than average. What effect will this have on the spring season?

Godwin: It is encouraging that we have seen another good mast crop in most regions of our state this year. While mast was not as uniformly abundant as it was last year, turkeys should go into the spring 2013 season in good physiological condition in all regions of our state.

As far as the weather is concerned, it does seem to be shaping up for another early spring. However, we have already had more cold weather than we had last winter, and it is really still too early to predict what conditions will be like in mid-March at this point.

 

Mississippi Sportsman: As a turkey hunter, what tips can you offer to help Mississippi hunters have a successful season?

Godwin: I think the No. 1 thing hunters can do to be successful is to spend as much time in the woods learning from the birds as your schedule allows.

Hunters need to understand that where you find turkeys during the deer season is not necessarily where you will find birds opening day.

Plus, where you find birds early in the season is not necessarily where you will find them late in the spring. The average home range of a wild turkey in our part of the South is about six square miles. Birds move over relatively large areas to meet their annual habitat requirements.

The more time you spend in the woods with turkeys in your area, the more you will understand what those birds are doing.

Hunters can check out our Web site at www.mdwfp.com/turkey for more information on turkeys and turkey hunting. I hope that everyone has a safe and enjoyable spring in Mississippi's turkey woods.