It is a blessing to live in a state offering so much quality public hunting land. Whenever I get the chance to brag, I let my out-of-state hunting friends know that Mississippi is the place to come for deer hunting, small game hunting, and even some of the best fishing in the country, especially crappie.
Then I remind them on top of all that, the Magnolia State has some of the top public land turkey hunting in the country as well.
Mississippi has nearly two million acres of open public hunting lands available with national forests, state operated wildlife management areas, hunting property owned and managed by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers mostly around the big fishing reservoirs — read here fishing and hunting on the same trip — and other opportunities as well including several National Wildlife Refuges (NWR) that are federal lands with special hunting regulations and access rules.
There are 53 state Wildlife Management Areas, available in every sector of the state, giving any state resident access to several within a reasonable driving distance. Nearby to many of these WMAs are state parks for camping, cabins or lodges plus towns with all the amenities and accommodations necessary to support a hunting vacation trip.
Our state’s WMAs are user friendly, providing simple access to hunt. That includes those that exist within one of our several national forests. Regulations can easily be found on line at mdwfp.com for each individual specific wildlife management area by name. This web site makes for easy trip planning and also provides a wide spectrum resource for a variety of hunting and fishing information for the state.
To hunt a Mississippi WMA, non-exempt hunters must possess, in addition to a hunting license, is a Wildlife Management Area User Permit, $15 for residents and $30 for non-residents. By anybody’s standards those are economical fees to access thousands of acres of open hunting lands.
Turkey regions and annual data
In its most recent 2014 Annual Turkey Report, once called Spittin’ & Drummin’, the Mississippi Department of Wildlife, Fisheries, and Parks divides the state into five regions — North Central and Northeast (21 counties), the Delta (10 counties), East Central (21 counties), Southwest (12 counties) and the Southeast (18 counties).
Within each of the five regions are multiple public lands available for turkey hunting. I have researched these with the assistance of the turkey hunting data from the above mentioned report to narrow down five public land wildlife management area choices for turkey hunting this year. I have also personally been on each of these selected sites.
By no means are these the only choices of public lands to hunt turkey in Mississippi. We simply had to narrow down the choices for this feature. Also a perspective has to be maintained about some assumptions coming forth from the data in the 2014 report.
First of all, the reported turkey hunting success and observational data is actually from the 2013 hunting season, because it is the most recently available compiled information and data. There is always a year lapse between the actual hunter survey submission deadline and its reported results.
As mentioned this data is collected from annual voluntarily submitted turkey hunter surveys. It does not imply that the information is from hunting conducted exclusively on public lands. In fact, most of the data is likely from private land hunters and hunting clubs.
However, the data is assumed to be representative of the counties in those turkey regions. So, the information is at least one good source of data to follow for recommendations on public lands to hunt this season.
It is pretty tough to narrow the list of 53 WMAs down to just five, but here are my best bet picks for turkey hunting this year on public lands in Mississippi.
Upper Sardis WMA
Located in the North Central/Northeast Region, this WMA is in Lafayette County. The nearest big town is Oxford. Upper Sardis’ overall acreage size is 42,274 acres, and it is part of the much-larger Holly Springs National Forest at 146,938 acres. Its habitat is mostly mixed shortleaf pine and upland hardwoods. The area manager’s office contact phone number is 662-487-1946.
Why Region 1, which has never been considered strong for turkey, and Upper Sardis? For starters, the WMA is big, which means there should be plenty of ground for turkey hunters to spread out and not be hunting on top of one another.
That’s nice, but making it more attractive is that the northern area had the highest turkey gobbler harvest yields in the state in 2013 with 3.6 birds per 100 hours of hunting. The region also ranked high in number of gobbles heard at 41 per ten hours of hunting.
This makes Upper Sardis a good choice for turkey scouting and hunting throughout the season.
Caston Creek/Sandy Creek WMAs
These two sister WMAs in the Southwest region are located in the Homochitto National Forest near Meadville off U.S. Highway 84. They are both close to Natchez. The national forest has 190,000 total acres with 29,000 acres in Caston Creek WMA and 16,000 in Sandy Creek WMA.
The Southwest, or Region 4, has traditionally been a strong area for turkey hunting in Mississippi, and the numbers indicate this is still true. Though the 2013 gobbler harvest rate per 100 hours of hunting was a modest 3.2 gobblers, the region led the state in both the number of gobbles heard — 70 — and number of gobblers observed per 10 hours of hunting — 65.
To say the terrain on these WMAs is steep would be an understatement. It is nothing but ridges and valleys made up of Loblolly and longleaf pines on the ridges with hardwood timber down in the drains. Hunters need to be in good shape if they want to chase hot gobblers on these WMAs. The contact office’s number for both WMAs is 601-277-3636.
Mississippi hunters picking these two WMAs need to be aware of and expect a heavy non-resident (especially Louisiana) use of these lands. I recommend hunting here during the week and planning on scouting and hunting well off the forest roads traversing these lands. Get away from the other hunters and your success rates will increase accordingly.
Bienville and Caney Creek WMAs
These neighboring WMAs are in Region 3, and are part of the Bienville National Forest’s 178,000 acres near Forest, on Interstate 20 between Jackson and Meridian. This makes for very easy access right off an interstate highway and Mississippi Highway 35. The WMA manager contact phone number is 601-469-1918 for both of these WMAs.
Caney Creek’s 28,000 acres are closer to Forest, while Bienville’s 26,000 acres are more near Morton.
Their habitats are predominately Loblolly pine intersected by hardwood drains with roughly an 80-20 percent mix. There are multiple trails around these properties with isolated ponds and small lakes that make good nearby turkey roosting sites.
Region 3’s gobblers were tough to kill in 2013, with a harvest rate of 2.9 per 100 hours of hunting, but they were easy to hear and see. Hunters reported hearing 60 gobbles per 10 hours of hunting and seeing 50 gobblers every 10 hours, both very respectable turkey action numbers. These two WMAs would be good turkey hunting bets because they are so easy to find and access.
So there are five picks for potential public land turkey hunting this spring. I don’t think hunters could go wrong on any of these lands or others that are available. Additional information for specific area hunting rules and regulations are available on the MDWFP web site listed above. Just go hunt.