Mississippi has one of the most abundant wild turkey populations in the southeast, second only to Alabama. This is an incredible feat considering that not 80 years ago, the eastern wild turkey was on its last leg in the Magnolia State.

Reintroduction efforts and intensive management have made Mississippi a prime destination for Deep South turkey hunters. Not only do we have ample opportunities during our regular six-week season and week-long youth season, we have plenty of impressive gobblers that would make any turkey hunter green with envy.

MDWFP biologist Dave Godwin says that although 2009 may go down as one of the worst hatch years on record, this shouldn't impact the number of 2-year-old gobblers seen in the woods this spring. The East-Central, Southwest and Southeast regions of the state showed the most promise in hatch numbers last year.

So what does it take to bag a bird that they say can see you blink at 200 yards and can slip up on you in ghastly silence in the spring woods? Turkey hunters, like all hunters, have their opinions about what is required to be successful in the field. Following is a pile of early-season tips from several turkey hunters across the state.

Preseason homework

Put your time in well before the season starts. Norman Sisson from Madison says that it's important to learn everything about wild turkeys that you can lay your hands on.

"Get in shape to walk all day and pattern your shotgun at 10, 20, 30 and 40 yards," he suggested. "Learn the routes that your local birds use during a typical day: roost, feed, water, loafing and strut zones. Become intimately familiar with the woods that you are hunting. Know what food is available at what time and what the birds are eating."

Greg Mason of Buckatunna agreed.

"Know your area," he said. "I've been on several hunts with people on land I've never hunted, and gotten the bird close enough to hear him drumming, only to find out there is a creek or reed break in between us and the bird."

Mason scouts preseason whenever possible, and checks the lay of the land to find out where the turkeys are staying most of the time.

But too much scouting can be a bad thing.

"Don't put so much preseason pressure on them that opening day they have a case of lockjaw," he warns.

Doug Morgan of Brandon reaffirmed the importance of preseason scouting.

"I get a lot of enjoyment spending several days or weeks watching turkeys," he said. "I personally want to know how many gobblers are in an area before spring breakup. Then I will target the most dominant bird in the area first. I like to know the general area he roosts and his daily habits - where he likes to go, where he feeds, where he loafs."

Morgan says another bird will take over the dominant gobbler's area a few days after the boss is dead.

"I don't owl or crow call before the season in order to get a bird to gobble," he said. "I let them gobble on their own. A week before season I will be in the woods every morning before work."

Morgan likes to pattern his gun before season each year, and even though he is in his 31st year of calling turkeys, he still practices.

"Each year before the season I will listen to my Lovett Williams tapes, and I seem to always learn something about turkey sounds, even if it is just minor inflections in the sound. I don't want to just know the rhythm and the sound, I want to be able to add the little subtle sounds that add realism to my calling."

Patience, stealth, communication

So you put in your scouting time, know the land and have a good idea where the birds will be. What do you do when show time arrives?

"Hide extremely well; be extremely still," says William Yarbrough of Vidalia, La. "There is not much vegetative cover early to help you hide. Don't let them see you; the season is very long, and you don't want to educate them for the remainder of the season."

Patience is crucial as well.

"Hunt all day," Sisson advised. "Many turkeys have gone to their maker around lunch. Let the turkeys dictate how aggressively to call."

Sisson also suggests that you learn the rhythm and pace of the spring woods, and learn how to move through them without alerting everything to your presence.

"When that bird gets close and goes quiet, and you've sat there as long as you can stand it, look at your watch and sit 30 more minutes," says Quinn McClurg from Vicksburg. "Patience will kill more turkeys than anything else."

Morgan tries to give early season birds the calls they want to hear.

"Several years ago, there were two really loud-mouthed hens in an area I hunt," he said. "I would go in and do my thing, calling just loud enough for him to hear me and such.

"One morning, out of frustration I got as loud as those two; I carried him home about 7:30."

Morgan says it's also just as important to know when to be quiet.

"If he doesn't answer, we play the quiet game a while until he gobbles, whether at me or something else," he said. "Then he gets a little more. A soft cluck and purr with a little scratching will usually let you know if 30 minutes of silence has done any good."

Keith Boone of Vaiden says to use the terrain to your advantage when approaching a gobbler.

"Stay behind hills, thickets or other features that will hide your movements," he advised.

You can also track a turkey's movements by his scratchings, according to Boone.

"If you find a place where turkeys have done a lot of scratching, take the time to see what direction they may have been traveling by looking at which way the leaves are piled," he said. "Turkeys scratch leaves backward, so it's not difficult to slowly track scratched areas through the woods."

Keep in mind that becoming addicted to turkey hunting is not good for your job.

"I like to check the weather the week before and decide which mornings would be ideal," says Shaun Miles from Meridian. "Depending on what you do, most bosses will allow you to work late and make time up or work through lunch. Now is the time to get with your boss and arrange some time off during the mornings for turkey hunting. There is no sense in wasting time off if the wind is blowing 30 m.p.h. and it's raining."

While foul weather may hinder your hunting, timing can be everything.

"One of the best turkeys I have ever killed was in a thunderstorm that made me fear for my life," says Morgan. "I watched the lightning strike the ground twice, and he cussed it with multiple gobbles ... but when the front had passed, he was in a loving mood."