As Ol' Man Winter slowly releases his grip on the Deep South, many of us will find ourselves out listening on those warmer days for the first gobbles of the season. The spring turkey season is a much anticipated event for many woodsmen in the Magnolia State.

The 2009 hatch left much to be desired, but the good news is that there should be plenty of 2-year-old birds in the woods from a good hatch in 2008.


Public lands that cater to youth

Two public areas managed by the MDWFP offer youth-only turkey hunting opportunities. These areas are Ward Bayou WMA and Natchez State Park. Hunting in both areas is allowed by special permit only. While other WMAs across the state allow youth hunting during the regular Youth Season from March 6-12, 2010, Ward Bayou and Natchez allow only youths the opportunity to hunt throughout the entire spring turkey season.

Ward Bayou, located in Jackson County near Moss Point, comprises over 13,200 acres. Youth turkey hunts are offered from March 6-May 2 on Friday, Saturday and Sunday only. Ward Bayou is located in the Southeast Region of the state, which, as mentioned earlier, had the highest hatch on record in 2007. With plenty of birds in the woods this spring, youths stand a good chance to bag a nice tom.

Natchez State Park, located in Adams County near Natchez, is in the turkey-rich area in the Southwest region of the state. Youths may hunt turkeys by permit only on select dates from March 6-April 24.

Other public lands offer excellent turkey hunting, and all have early youth-hunting opportunities. Each youth hunting on a WMA has to be under the direct supervision of a licensed or exempt adult, 21 years of age or older. Persons aged 15 or younger are eligible to participate in the youth hunts.

East-Central Mississippi shows the most promise of any region in the state, according to biologists. Several public lands can be found in this area, and all offer a week of youth turkey season prior to the beginning of the regular season.

Nanih Waiya WMA in Neshoba County and Okatibbee WMA in Lauderdale County offer good hunting opportunities for youth in East Mississippi. Bienville WMA in Scott County, Caney Creek WMA in Scott and Smith counties and Tallahala WMA in Newton, Scott, Jasper and Smith counties offers a concentrated area of turkey hunting heaven along Interstate 20 between Jackson and Meridian.

Choctaw WMA in Choctaw and Winston counties, John W. Starr WMA in Oktibbeha and Winston counties and Yockanookany WMA in Attala County offer youth turkey seasons as well.

As mentioned previously, only youths 15 years of age or younger may hunt during the special youth season or on permit-only youth hunts, but they must be under the direct supervision of an adult. Youth hunters may also take one gobbler of any size. The other two birds in their yearly three-bird limit must have a 6-inch or longer beard.


Challenges of youth season

Jake St. John of Greenville has been turkey hunting for many years, and took his son and nephew hunting long before there was a youth season.

"The problem with the youth weekend now in the spring season is that it is too early," he said. "In North Mississippi, where we do most of our hunting, the birds don't even start gobbling until just before the 1st of April. If I planned a youth hunt, I would hunt South Mississippi for sure. We hunt there some, and they definitely will gobble there as opposed to North Mississippi."

St. John recommends taking it easy on the kids when you take them with you. Nothing ruins a child's passion for hunting worse than an adult who pushes them too hard.

"I plan on taking my grandson when he gets older. When I do, it will be in an area where I know there is a bird. I will put him between my legs and whisper to him the whole time we are working the bird. Take plenty of snacks and do not wear them out.

"The first time I took my son and nephew, we got on a stubborn bird. My son fell asleep after he had gobbled 53 times; my nephew fell asleep after 86 gobbles. He gobbled 117 times and went to the first spot I called to him. I wore them out on that one bird. Would have done better to come back and work him another day."

Jim Crews from Canton echoes St. John's advice on not pushing the kids to the point of misery, or getting hung up on killing a bird.

"Be prepared to make it a fairly short hunt because their attention span isn't long," he advised. "Always take a blind to keep them hidden and get into position. Be patient because there are going be times they can't get the gun up on an incoming turkey or keep it up. Be prepared to accept a miss every once in a while.

"It is a youth hunt, so just keep that in mind. Don't force the little guys into things that aren't fun for them. My 13-year-old is nuts about turkey hunting, and goes almost every day with us because I always made it fun for him. Teach them how to call and let them call because the rush of turkey hunting is calling them in. It's very important to let the kids participate in the hunt. It's fun to watch, but even more fun to be a participant."


Early season tips and tactics

Crews hunts land in both the hills and the north Delta. Having a hunting location in the southern part of the state is advantageous during the early season, in his opinion.

"Some years we get an early spring and it tends to be better during youth season, but two years ago, it snowed the night before season," he said. "I've never hunted turkeys in the snow before that.

"Turkeys are still in winter flocks sometimes, which makes hunting them more difficult. I've been hunting the same locations for years, and the birds tend to use the same areas on each of those properties. I usually go opening day to a spot I know will have birds and see what happens from there. I really don't do much preseason scouting."

St. John follows the same creed.

"Any time you scout early you are walking in their territory and you are making the wild turkeys wilder," he said. "Slip in before peak gobbling times, and don't do any early season calling. Just locate with owl hooting or coyote calls, but use these sparingly. Most of the time I will wait to let one sound off on his own.

"If you hunt an area regularly, you'll know where the best roosting areas are. Get above them and listen. Last year, I killed a bird the second morning in Franklin County 40 steps from my listening spot, and only made a cluck and, a while later, four yelps after he flew down, and then three gobbler yelps when he answered the four yelps."

The camaradarie of the the birds this time of year makes them tougher to hunt.

"Birds tend to be still grouped up, and you may have a big flock of hens and gobblers together," Crews said. "This makes it very difficult because they hit the ground at one time, and then they're gone. Try to find a gobbler that may not be associated with the big group. Work the hens. If you can get a mean old bossy hen talking to you and call her to you, then the gobblers will sometimes follow. Just be aware that there's no sure thing this time of year."