Spring turkey hunting began Wednesday in Mississippi, with the opening of the weeklong youth-only hunt statewide. Only hunters aged 15 and under can shoot gobblers through March 14.

The regular statewide season opens March 15.

During the youth season and continuing through the regular season, youngsters can shoot any gobbler regardless of beard length or age. Beginning March 15, hunters 16 and over will be restricted to harvesting “mature” gobblers, or gobblers with a minimum 6-inch beard. The season limit is three per person.

Since the 2017 Legislature failed to pass a mandatory harvest reporting or tagging system for turkey hunting, the Mississippi Department of Wildlife, Fisheries, and Parks is asking turkey hunters to voluntarily report their kills this spring through an online system produced by the agency.

“Mississippi is one of only two states throughout the Eastern wild turkey’s range that does not require hunters to report their spring harvests,” said Adam Butler, the MDWFP’s Wild Turkey Program Coordinator.  “While we are not legally requiring hunters to do so at this time, we strongly encourage hunters to begin using our new system to become familiar with the concept.”

The legislator who let the bill die in a committee — Senate Wildlife Committee Chairman Philip Moran (R-Kiln) — has already said he expects the bill to reappear and likely pass in 2018.

“We’re treating 2017 as a pilot year for the program,” Butler said. “We hope all turkey hunters will utilize the system and we fully encourage everyone to let us know what they like or do not like about this approach.  If turkey harvest reporting eventually becomes mandatory we want to ensure that we have done all we can to make it as user friendly as possible.”

Hunters can report their harvests online at www.mdwfp.com/turkeyharvest.  The reporting process is easy and should only take a few moments.  Hunters begin the process by creating a user account within the new Mississippi Game Check system.  Harvests can then be reported by entering a few simple pieces of information including the date and county of harvest, whether the harvest occurred on private or public land, and some basic measurements from the bird.

In recent years, several other southeastern states have initiated harvest reporting systems for turkey and deer. Moving toward these systems allows more detailed data on harvests to be gathered, which ultimately improves the agency’s decision making. This technique has considerable advantages over older methods, which estimate statewide harvests using the responses of a subset of randomly selected hunting license buyers.  

Alabama is utilizing mandatory harvest reporting for the first time this spring, and Mississippi officials are carefully assessing their neighboring state’s rollout.