In a dream textbook version of a turkey hunt, the gobbler sounds off on the roost shortly after daybreak, and then he flies down to terra firma. He immediately saunters over to the hunter's hen calls to sacrifice his well being to the deep fryer.

Yeah right.

For just once in my turkey hunter's life, I'd love to be on the scene when that scenario unfolds.

"Turkey hunting has been a lifelong passion not to mention a big part of a career choice I made dozens of years ago when I turned from barbering to making turkey calls for a living," said Preston Pittman, world champion turkey caller and precision call maker from Canton. "I have chased gobblers in 20 different states or more, every species, under every condition, but I keep telling folks time and time again, nothing can beat how disgustingly tough our gobblers are right here at home in Mississippi."

 

Targeting the Delta

Always in the search for new fertile gobbler grounds to pursue his trade, Pittman and a select group of the brotherhood of turkey hunters descended on Grenada and Tallahatchie counties last spring hoping to write one more exciting chapter in another turkey textbook.

Why would turkey hunters go to the Delta to chase tom gobblers? The terrain there west of the Delta Hills down into the flatlands is, well, flat. Though there are isolated pockets of hardwoods housing a few well-tested gobblers, the whole region is best known for its endless open fields of agriculture including soybeans and corn.

Like ribbons streaming between the farmlands are countless rivers, swampy sloughs and timber-laden potholes of precious water most years that attract hordes of waterfowl on their move south from the northern ice packs, frozen tundra and depleted food resources. This is duck hunting country as good as it gets in Mississippi.

Its reputation as a prime destination for turkey hunting may only be known by the locals, and they may well want to keep it that way. This fact alone is one that might raise a few eyebrows. Maybe it's a conspiracy to keep the turkey hunting a secret. If that's the case, we were about to find out.

Tim Gray, owner of Hunter's Paradise Lodge, our home base host west of Charleston, zeroed in some private land for us to hunt. Contacts to those landowners kept turning up one suggestion following another, all the same.

Were we planning to try the nearby Malmaison Wildlife Management Area while we were so close? For wild turkey?

That's something we had to add to an already busy agenda, so the minute we got to the lodge, we started to ask more questions.

"Malmaison? Yeah, it's an interesting wildlife management area," said Albin Flautt, a top regional duck hunting guide and sometime turkey hunter. "Of course, its stock and trade as a public hunting area up here in the Delta is waterfowl hunting. Then it has some pretty fair deer hunting, too. They got some gobblers over there that's for sure. It's tricky hunting, but the rewards make you forget the hard part. You probably don't want to leave the area without making a try at it."

 

The Malmaison landscape

This state-operated WMA is situated in the southeast sector of the Delta region. It can be found southwest of Grenada from Interstate 55 on Highway 7 through the small town of Holcomb on toward the WMA headquarters building just off the highway to the left.

One of the best advantages of being located nearby to Grenada is the availability of good motels, a few great restaurants, including what should be a must stop at BBB Ribs, and plenty of regular sources of supplies. The drive over to the WMA is only about 15 miles from town. This is a good set up for an out-of-town hunter.

Malmaison has several other points of entry off various county roads along its perimeter, but these are best checked out once driving around on the property. A best bet to exploring any state WMA is to buy the combo topographic/aerial photo map from the MDWFP. Place a phone call to 601-432-2400 to inquire about these maps that cost only $10 each plus shipping. This is a little money well spent.

Hunters traveling to this WMA will find several large wooden marquee and green metal signs on Highway 7 showing access roads to the area. There are two check-in stations near the headquarters building and four others available spread across the entire property.

When hunting any state WMA, don't forget to pick up a user card, sign in, place it on the vehicle dashboard while hunting, then complete it and turn it back into the collection box upon exiting the area. This helps the wildlife managers and area biologists to monitor hunting activity and harvest results. This data is crucial to developing future wildlife management decisions and plans, so be sure to turn the card back in.

Total listed acreage on Malmaison is around 9,700 acres. Most of it lies in Grenada County, but parts of it also spill over into Carroll and Leflore counties. Remember this is duck country, so that means wetlands. Most of the area is fed by the Yalobusha River traversing the WMA filling lakes and greentree reservoirs.

If the spring turns into a rainy season as it did last year, expect water all over the place in creeks, ditches, drainages, small oxbows, land depressions and pooled up everywhere on the property. Even if the turkey season is dry, be prepared to find leftover water from the winter months in most of the low-lying areas. Always be mindful of snakes, too.

Timber on this WMA is pine and hardwoods. Pine covers the high spot ridgelines, along the borders of food plots and forest trails. Dotted among the pines are big oaks and other hardwoods. The bottoms along drainages can be lined with big hardwoods that are ideal roosting places for wild turkeys.

Turkey hunters not familiar with this WMA will have to drive the area in earnest. First, locate several options for parking places or pull-over zones. If you have the luxury of an extra day before hunting yet the season is already open, use it to cruise the whole property to see where other hunters congregate. Making an advance plan where to go will prove a huge benefit.

Malmaison is laced with forest roads that will be depicted on the area brochure map, but in much better definition on the topographic map mentioned earlier. Then there are numerous forest trails that can only be walked to scout. A good bet is to find one of these trails leading along the top of a ridge or hill with falling terrain on one or both sides. These are excellent spots to scout for morning roosted birds or for gobbler encounters later in the day.

 

Beating the pressure factor

"The day before we went onto Malmaison for our first hunt, I got a call from a contact in the area telling me about a gobbler hotspot to try," said Joe Wood, regional director with the National Wild Turkey Federation. "It was less than two miles from the headquarters building off one of the forest roads. We drove over that afternoon to check it out. We were looking for a tom that gobbled 300 times just that morning.

"Malmaison has good turkey numbers and its fair share of hunters, too. Turkey hunting is very popular on this management area. In fact by the end of March, turkey hunters had taken 32 gobblers as noted by the check-in cards turned in at stations across the property.

"For me that was a bit of a red flag, plus the fact that scouting drive-bys turned up quite a few vehicles parked in the area. Hunting pressure on public land is always a concern, but there are ways to defuse it. Certainly it makes turkey hunting more challenging."

Beating hunting pressure on public lands means two strategies: Hunt at times when the masses don't, and hunt in places where they don't. Both of these tactics can be accomplished on Malmaison.

The best time to tackle gobblers here is during the first of the week, but more precisely on Tuesday and Wednesday after the weekend rush with a day off between, when maybe the gobblers have calmed down a bit. Hunters will still be around, but not as many.

Scouting off the main roads will reveal areas to hunt with fewer boot prints in the mud trails. Go early well before daylight to stake out the spot. Listen long and hard for toms talking from the roost. Move to the gobbles fast to claim the prize. Calling will have to be effective, but in a subliminal mode. These tactics will take the cap off the pressure cooker.

 

Seal the deal

"Wild turkey gobblers can be cranked into the gun using a lot of calling styles, cadences and tones, but public-land toms often require a bit more finesse," Pittman said. "Usually the best approach on a public gobbler that has been over-called by a number of different hunters is to go low and slow."

The purpose here is to not further spook gobblers that have already been call shocked all season.

"Always start with low volume, quiet short yelps with a faint cluck or two at the fly down," he advised. "Sometimes a wing flap will do the trick, or sometimes some scratching in the leaves is a good move if a gobbler hangs up in deep woods. Remaining motionless is the key, and looking into the woods with your ears is critical. It's hard for a gobbler searching for a lost hen to really come in totally silent."

The old "run and gun" used to be the ace fad among turkey hunters with the lung wind and legs to do it, but honestly it rarely ever yielded a decent set up on a fast-paced gobbler. If the roost set-up fails due to too many real hens with the tom, then stay where you are waiting for the gobbler to circle back, or start strolling the area stopping to call every 100 yards or 15 minutes as a rule.

Ideally, you will eventually strike another gobbler ready to play ball. Many a gobbler has been killed at mid-morning through the noon hour. These tactics will work well on Malmaison WMA.

Finding a public hunting area with suitable numbers of wild turkey gobblers amidst a place covered with the sounds of thousands of ducks and geese just a couple months before may be a difficult proposition to grasp. Malmaison WMA is a unique public area in this regard. Its reputation may have well been established and built on the waterfowl hunting that draws hordes of wingshooters to its wetlands each year, but adding to it some great turkey hunting certainly won't ruin this long-standing distinction.